This was another extremely impressive production by Operantics, dazzlingly sung.

LA SONNAMBULA started began life in Paris in 1827 as a ballet, at the height of a craze for stage works featuring somnambulism. Bellini’s opera was first performed in 1831. Various stars who have performed in the demanding roles include Pasta, Malibran, Callas, Pavarotti and Sutherland. More recently there was the controversial production in 2009 at the Met in New York with French soprano Natalie Dessay. Opera Australia’s most recent production was in 2010 with Emma Matthews.

LA SONNAMBULA is one of the bel canto operas, those early nineteenth-century Romantic works by Bellini, Rossini, Donizetti and their counterparts that emphasise virtuoso and exquisite vocalism as distinct from concentrating on symphonic musical development or ‘’ naturalistic “ drama.

The rather light weight, silly, early Romantic plot concerns Amina (Joelene Griffith), a Swiss village girl, betrothed to fellow villager Elvino (Michael Butchard) . All is joyous in their idyllic pastoral paradise until the arrival of a mysterious stranger, Count Rodolfo (Christopher Nazarian), whose admiration of Amina makes Elvino jealous.

Elvino’s jealousy is further enflamed when Amina is discovered in Rodolfo’s room at Lisa’s inn overnight. The confusion is eventually happily resolved when it is demonstrated that Amina is in fact an innocent sleepwalker, a somnambulist.

Minimalist in staging this version was quite traditional yet extremely effective. Surtitles were handily provided on the back projection screen. The set, apart from flowers entwined around the handrail and some hand props, was generally indicated by projections of charming atmospheric black and white illustrations – the village, Lisa’s inn, the old mill and more. It would be worth your while to look at the Independent Theatre’s Facebook page to discover the Sydney icons that Amina spends time walking across in her sleep.

There was no orchestra rather instead a piano score version was used, magnificently played by Nathaniel Kong. Ian Warwick and Keiren Brandt-Sawdy developed the small chorus as individual characters who gave finely nuanced performances. Brandt-Sawdy conducted passionately and energetically.

Our troubled heroine , vulnerable and naïve Amina was delightfully sung by Joelene Griffith who has a bright, full timbre and terrific voice with gleaming top notes and unforced agility in the demanding coloratura sections. She showcased a lovely legato and sang with great ease and expressiveness.

At the start (and end) she is all joyously bubbling ( “Come per me sereno / oggi rinacque il di! / “How brightly this day dawned for me”). The duets with Elvino ranged from exultant to strained and pleading once he has broken off the wedding. The famous sleepwalking scene was tense and terrific ( “Ah! non credea mirarti / sì presto estinto, o fiore / “I had not thought I would see you, dear flowers, perished so soon” ) – dance lovers will possibly pick up hints of the mad scene from Giselle that was first performed in 1841.

Our shallow, rather undecided hero Elvino was sung by tall Michael Butchard an excellent tenor with matinee idol good looks who sent marvellous unforced phrases of song lyrically soaring.

Miller-Crispe as the scheming worldly inn-keeper Lisa, in love with Elvino, was magnificent. Her seemingly heartbroken aria opening the opera “Tutto è gioia, tutto è festa…Sol per me non non v’ha contento / “All is joy and merriment… I alone am miserable” was moving but we uncover her jealousy and wounded pride and see the spiteful lengths she will go to throughout the opera. During the villager’s tale of the strange phantom they have seen, describing it to Count Rodolfo , Lisa plays the part of the ‘ghost’ with a red shawl ( scarf ?) over her head. Interestingly there is a loose end left at the end of the opera as Lisa simply vanishes…

Darkly handsome, charismatic Christopher Nazarian as Count Rodolfo was suitably mysterious and from his first entrance dominated the stage with his powerful , magnificently thrilling voice. He at first seems like a callous Lothario but when he spies Amina sleepwalking he does not take advantage of her and tries to defend her , insisting on her innocence.

Alessio in love with Lisa was delightfully sung by Christopher Curcuruto. As Teresa , Amina’s supportive foster mother, Jermaine Chau showcased her excellent mezzo voice.

This production was a terrific showcase of
wonderful young opera talent .

Running time 2 hours 40 mins (roughly) including one interval.

The Operantics production of Bellini’s La Sonnambula played at the Independent Theatre, North Sydney for a brief season which concluded on October 2.