OP3342. LA SONNAMBULA, Live Performance, 21 Dec., 1968, w. Bonynge Cond. Met Opera Ensemble; Joan Sutherland, John Alexander, Bonaldo Giaiotti, Colette Boky, Paul Plishka, etc. (Canada) 2-St Laurent Studio YSL T-912.
"Quality and excitement, two vocal values which have been in short supply this season, returned to the Metropolitan with the reappearance, after too long an absence, of Joan Sutherland. The specification is double because, as indoctrinated operagoers know, there can be excitement without quality, as well as quality without excitement.
With Miss Sutherland, both are of a rather special sort, taking in extremes of reaction. Some sense the excitement without being aware of the quality, taking their stimuli from the pure physical phenomenon of cleanly struck higher-than-customary high notes, or a rapid succession of sounds crowded into a shorter space of time than is normally required for such execution. These excite basic sensory perceptions and induce a kind of Pavlovian response, such as cries of 'Brava' and extravagant applause.
Others, more keenly aware of the finesse in Miss Sutherland's delivery of the vocal detail in such a role as Amina in Bellini's LA SONNAMBULA (a work not previously heard at the Lincoln Center Metropolitan), respond to it in the ways reserved for those who achieve results above and beyond the reach of ordinary humans. That is, they honor her as a paragon, a touchstone, an absolute among comparatives, one who has reached every station on the way to the summit of the mountain. Or perhaps, it would be better to say, every station but the very last. That is the terminal point of any artistic journey, the one marked MOUNT BELIEVABILITY. The fickle gods, dispensing their gifts as they do, sometimes challenge their votaries by withholding something from those they favor most. It is a way of keeping everything in order and suppressing pride when it raises its ungrateful head.
Thus, with Miss Sutherland's Amina, fantasy and realism are strangely inverted. The realism of her performance is that which would be fantasy for most - an unbelievably glossy, free, and precise articulation of Bellini's intricate patterns, the almost instrumental exactness with which she strikes high Ds and Es (Cs are barely worth mention). The fantasy, not quite within her reach, was that which would be ready realism for many others - the creation of an attractive, appealing, not to say believable, figure of a young girl in love....Miss Sutherland's effort was consistently above the timber line, those of her associates in the vocal valleys. Of the others, Bonaldo Giaiotti's Rodolfo (though a bass) came closest to matching her vocal altitude. Richard Bonynge completed the family partnership as conductor."
- Irving Kolodin, SATURDAY REVIEW, 21 December, 1968
“The Met revived LA SONNAMBULA in 1963 specifically for Joan Sutherland. The opera had not been performed there for some 30 years, last sung by Lily Pons....LA SONNAMBULA is not Bellini’s strongest work. The music is more one-dimensional (that dimension being ‘limpid’) than NORMA, I PURITANI, and even IL PIRATA. But what SONNAMBULA does offer is a string of long-breathed melodies of almost unimaginable beauty, melodies that require extraordinary breath control and vocal elegance to bring to life."
- Henry Fogel, FANFARE