La bella dormente nel bosco

New York Magazine

Peter G. Davis

Ottorino Respighi’s practically unknown and totally enchanting little puppet opera La Bella Dormente Nel Bosco (“Sleeping Beauty in the Woods”) was written in 1922, revised in 1934, and has slept more or less undisturbed ever since—until it captured the imagination recently of puppeteer Basil Twist. The results are truly magical. Lincoln Center’s Festival 2005 scored major points by presenting six performances of Twist’s reimagining of the piece, in which live singers collaborate with some 75 string marionettes to retell the familiar fairy tale of Sleeping Beauty and her Prince Charming. Not only do human characters interact with their life-size wooden counterparts, but all manner of fantastic creatures pop up: a chorus of frogs, airborne fairies, a fluttering nightingale, a juggling jester, a sleepy cat, a giant spider—even the poisonous spindle has a distinctive personality all its own. Conductor Neal Goren understands exactly what’s needed to bring out the best in the score, and the cast, including seven soloists from the Gotham Chamber Opera, are vocally impeccable. Twist takes a big risk by letting us see the twelve puppeteers themselves, manipulating their strings from a catwalk at the top of the stage. But instead of interfering with the illusion, the sight of these virtuosos at work actually enhances the charm of the piece and adds an extra human touch.