Vincenzo Bellini's "La Sonnambula," celebrating the 175th anniversary of its March 6, 1831 world premiere, in Milan, this year, tells of the Swiss village maiden Amina, who, on the eve of her marriage to Elvino, sleepwalks into Count Rodolfo's room at Lisa's inn and is condemned by nearly everyone, until they see her somnambulism with their own eyes. Leading a concert performance of "La Sonnambula" from the keyboard, on November 5, to open the West Side Opera Society's season, was David Clenny, familiar to many New Yorkers for having sung as a male soprano in Handel operas at Carnegie Hall and starring in "La Contessa dei Vampiri," his own bel canto parody, and to Fire Islanders for singing and playing piano in various venues in Cherry Grove. This "Sonnambula" was given at Trinity Lutheran Church, at 168 West 100th Street, as a fundraiser for the church's shelter for homeless LGBT youth.
Amina and the title role in Bellini's masterpiece, "Norma," first given on December 26, 1831, were written for the same singer, Giuditta Pasta, but, in a post-Verdi and Wagner operatic world, Norma largely became the province of dramatic sopranos with coloratura ability, like Rosa Ponselle, and Amina, that of light lyric coloraturas, like Lily Pons and Roberta Peters, although Maria Callas and Joan Sutherland notably embraced both roles.
West Side Opera's Amina was Beverly Butrie, who studies with Clenny and revealed, in entrance cavatina "Come per me sereno," a colorful soprano encompassing a bright high range and a low register of dark, almost mezzo-soprano timbre, and offered two (of a possible three) effervescently ornamented verses of the cabaletta "Sovra il sen," after its initial statement. Butrie's instrument took on an eerie purity in Amina's two sleepwalking scenes. In "D'un pensiero," the grand concerted number (parodied by Gilbert and Sullivan, in "Trial by Jury," as "A nice dilemma"), Butrie's Amina became impassioned as she implored her love to believe in her innocence. After a creamy legato "Ah! non credea," she brought the evening, punctuated by her ringing high E-flats, to a conclusion with a brilliant "Ah! non giunge."
Butrie will also star in Clenny's presentations of Gaetano Donizetti's comedy "La Fille du Régiment," on February 11, and historic tragedy "Anna Bolena," on May 13, at Trinity Lutheran.
Tackling high-lying music composed for Giovanni Battista Rubini, Joseph Mayon displayed a promising tenor with a fast vibrato, fairly gracefully handled over a wide range, in Elvino's tender address to Amina in "Prendi: l'anel ti dono ... Tutto, ah! tutto in questo istante," in Act One, and cruel denunciation of her, "Ah! perchè non posso odiarti," in Act Two. Mayon and Butrie's voices blended well as they harmonized in "Son geloso del zefiro errante" and its cadenza, capping the duet with their strong high C.
In "Vi ravviso," Bryce Smith, as Rodolfo, embraced the village from which he had been exiled, singing in a polished bass and demonstrating command of the bel canto line. Karen Grahn, as Amina's spiteful rival Lisa, got the proceedings off to an impressive start, lamenting "Tutto è gioia, tutto è festa" (but not for me) in a fresh-sounding soprano and later gave a fine account of often omitted florid aria, "De'lieti auguri."
Mezzo-soprano Sara Henry, as Amina's foster mother Teresa, and bass David Auxier, as Lisa's on-again, off-again love Alessio, firmly anchored the cast. Some may know Auxier from his performances with the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players and, in the Grove, in "Tonight We Raid Berlin," the Irving Berlin revue, which he also choreographed, and in Paul Rudnick's "Jeffrey," where he played the priest, the role Nathan Lane took in the film. Gary Filsinger, as the notary, and Alice Garrott and Silfreddo Serrano, as villagers, completed the company. Some choruses were omitted and others, sung by the full ensemble.
The West Side Opera Society will repeat "La Sonnambula," with the same performers, on November 20 at 8 p.m. at Good Faith Shepherd Church, 236 East 31st Street.