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Monday, November 21, 2022



(Above: The cover of “Imelda de Lambertazzi”)

William Charlton-Perkins writes a regular feature for the media titled Classical Notes. This one is titled Three Donizetti Treasures

This Opera Rara retrospective continues with three more Donizetti titles, recorded in London under the baton of Sir Mark Elder. Together they span the composer’s glory years - from the cusp of his international breakthrough to the final years of his career.

The first of these is the 2007 world premiere recording of Imelda de Lambertazzi (1830) whose Neapolitan premiere narrowly predated that of Anna Bolena at the Teatro Carcano in Milan. Imelda stars American soprano, Nicole Cabell (winner of the 2005 Cardiff Singer of the World Competition), with Massimo Giordano, Frank Lopardo, James Westman, Brindley Sherratt, the Geoffrey Mitchell Choir, and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment.

The band’s period instruments, and gut strings superbly illuminate a paired back score that cuts to the dramatic chase and keeps driving forward to the end, even though the orchestral writing has grateful solo opportunities for virtuoso players like clarinettist Antony Pay to shine.

The listener is drawn into the action from the outset. The compelling Prelude and Introduction stretch across the first eight tracks. Then Ms Cabell steps into the limelight to deliver a commanding rendering of Imelda’s Scena e Cavatina, ‘Vincesti alfin!’ … ‘Amarti, e nel martoro’ ….  ‘Ma il Ciel non ode’. And so, the musical riches roll by in this grim tale of vendetta run rife in 13th Bologna.

It is hard to cherry pick stand -out moments. That said, two random examples are the Act One finale, hurtling to its conclusion, and James Westman’s magnificent rendering of Bonifacio’s Act 2 scena, unmistakably emblematic as a creation written for the great Luigi Lablanche. Ms Cabell plumbs the depths of Imelda’s anguish at the opera’s abrupt conclusion. Disconcertingly, the heroine dies without getting her customary big aria and cabaletta. Except here she does. Opera Rara generously includes an Appendix with the aria finale written specifically for Luigia Boccabadati in 1831.

(Right: The cover of “Linda di Chamounix”)

The 2011 release of Linda di Chamounix (1842) derives from two live concert performances given at Covent Garden in 2009. Performed across the globe in the years following its Viennese premiere, the work then fell into neglect. These concert performances, recorded by Opera Rara at the Royal Opera House were its first at the theatre since 1887.

Aimed at the Austrian capital’s sophisticated music audience, Linda is A-list Donizetti. Its lovely score boasts some of his best writing, including the celebrated soprano showpiece ‘O luce di quest’anima’, sung here by the gifted Cuban American coloratura soprano Eglise Gutierrez.

In this semi-seria work, Linda has fallen in love with Carlo (US tenor Stephen Costello), believing him to be a painter, though he is in fact a nobleman. Packed off to Paris to spare her from the clutches of his uncle, the Marchese de Boisfleury (Alessandro Corbelli), Linda is discovered compromised, and berated by her father, Antonio (Ludovic Tézier), whose curse sends her off into the realm where bel canto devotees of the day confidently expected to get their jollies - as the prima donna of the moment delivered a ‘Mad Scene’. Supported by the loyal Pierotto (Marianna Pizzolato), Linda returns to Chamounix, regains her reason, and finally finds safety in the arms of the man she loves.

At the helm of the Royal Opera Orchestra and Chorus, Sir Mark Elder brings his unique podium wizardry to the critical edition of the score, whose abundant riches again defy sampling. If needs must, just start with the famous Overture, and keep going till you can bring yourself to stop. Or head straight for either of Linda’s big solos, to experience the star’s distinctive pulling power, and her grand-scale phrasing that has one looping back to an earlier age.

If compelled to cite a single stand-out number, it would be the heavenly duet, ‘Se tanto in ira agl’uomini. … A consolarmi affrettisi’ from Act I. This touchingly reveals Gutierrez as Donizetti’s pastoral heroine, communing in all innocence with her young man. Joining her, Mr Costello emits plenty of aural testosterone, as the joyous cabaletta lifts the young people’s soaring emotions aloft. Sheer magic.

The 3CD set comes with an accompanying booklet of Opera Rara’s usual high standard, beautifully illustrated and includes a complete libretto with an English translation, comprehensive article and synopsis by the eminent 19th-century musical scholar, Jeremy Commons. 

(The cover of “Maria di Rohan”)

Another winning thoroughbred from Opera Rara’s stable of Donizetti rarities is the 2011 release of Maria di Rohan (1843). This recording of the penultimate work in the astonishingly prolific Italian composer's 60-plus operatic canon stars the creamy-voiced Bulgarian soprano, Krassimira Stoyanova in its title role of Maria, Contessa di Rohan. Spanish tenor José Bros sings the romantic lead, Riccardo, Conte di Chalais.

Set in 17th century Paris, the love-triangle plot of this three-act lyric tragedy rivals the most melodramatic in the genre. Suffice it to say the opera's score, another commission for Vienna, is another of the composer's finest, compactly constructed, each number as melodically charged as the last, the soprano's entrance scena, ` Cupa fatal mestizia', compelling several encores.

With conductor Sir Mark Elder again in fine fettle at the helm of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, this scholarly recording follows the original score, but includes, by way of appendices, revisions Donizetti added for a subsequent Paris run of the work. The last track, `Non sequite la caccia', an extra number for the tenor, has Bros fearlessly pitching his lyric tenor into the vocal stratosphere. Thrilling singing that had me (as ever!) reprising this track repeatedly.

British baritone Christopher Purves and mezzo soprano Enkelejda Shkosa head Opera Rara's exceptionally strong supporting cast of Maria di Rohan. This handsomely presented two-disk set also comes with an exhaustive Jeremy Commons essay, a performance history of the work, and the libretto translated into English. This recording certainly bears out the dictum of the late Donizetti scholar, William Ashbrook, who proclaimed Maria di Rohan as the composer’s ‘tautest, most melodramatic opera [and shows him] in complete control of his musico-dramatic goals’.

All praise to Opera Rara for these three marvels. - William Charlton-Perkins