His Majesty’s Theatre
reviewed by Neville Cohn
One of the rewards of working as a music critic over decades is, after identifying and encouraging promising young talent, listening and watching (and hoping, because there is a high dropout rate) as they mature into confident adult musicians. This is very much the case insofar as Rachelle Durkin and Aldo di Toro are concerned.
Both demonstrated very significant potential as students. I recall a young Durkin in a production of The Magic Flute – and di Toro in a wondrously fine account of a Schumann song cycle. How splendidly they have now come to the fore.
As the romantic leads in La Sonnambula, each is enormously effective in solo arias – and in duo, their voices blend beautifully.
As the eponymous heroine, Durkin is vocally excellent and dramatically convincing. She has the ability to project her voice effortlessly to the furthest corners of the house; it is a pure and perfectly pitched stream of sound. And di Toro, as the ardent swain Elvino, who is heartbroken when it seems as if Amina has been unfaithful, was beyond reproach in vocal terms (he seems incapable of an ugly sound). Vocally and histrionically, they are a perfect match.
Other casting was shrewd and effective. In a smaller but pivotal role, Andrew Collis as Count Rodolfo (into whose bedroom Amina innocently wanders in her sleep, triggering a blizzard of malevolent gossip) was well cast. Zoe Kikiros brought an altogether appropriate shrewishness to the role of Lisa, at one time engaged to Elvino. And David Woodward was a delight as the engagingly dotty, fusspot notary.
Choristers were in fine fettle.
Sleepwalking lies at the heart of Bellini’s masterpiece. It is a crucial factor; too many productions have foundered on this point by having the heroine appear like some eerie, ashen-faced phantom from another dimension with weird lighting and silly make-up. How much more realistic and meaningful was this; it had the stamp of truth. It was this and a voice in fine form – as well as di Toro at his best – that made this production so meaningful.
It was an inspiration on the part of costume designer Richard Roberts to clothe the chorus in grey. It perfectly complemented the austerely Calvinist environment of the Switzerland in which the opera is set. All this struck a perfect note (no pun intended) as did Roberts’ set designs which were most effective in establishing, enhancing and maintaining mood.
Richard Mills was a reassuring presence in the pit as he took the W.A.Symphony Orchestra through its paces.
Photography by James Rogers