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alternatively Crotchet


Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)
Imelda de’ Lambertazzi - melodramma tragico in two acts (1830)
Orlando Lambertazzi, Chief Ghibelline magistrate of Bologna – Frank Lopardo (tenor); Imelda, Orlando’s daughter – Nicole Cabell (soprano); Lamberto, Orlando’s son – Massimo Giordano (tenor); Bonifacio, leader of the Guelphs, - James Westman (baritone); Ubaldo - Brindley Sherratt (bass)
Geoffrey Mitchell Choir. Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment/Mark Elder
rec. Henry Wood Hall, London, February/March 2007.
OPERA RARA ORC36 [62.02 + 59.58]


Experience Classicsonline

Donizetti first made an impact on the primo ottocento operatic scene with his seventh work Zoraida di Granata (see review) premiered in Rome in 1822. In the years immediately after this he plied his trade and wares, like many others, up and down the Italian peninsular. In his case this was mainly in Naples with the odd excursion to Rome or Palermo. With composers often getting paid less than singers they had to accept frequent commissions to keep body and soul together. What they might want to say in musical terms was subservient to the singers on a theatre’s roster. The choice of libretto to inspire them was often subject to the whim of the local censor or even the local royalty. Royalty could also influence the outcome of a new work. This is illustrated by the response to Pacini’s Alessandro nell’Indie (see review) which became a great success in 1824 when the Bourbon King of Naples, Ferdinand IV, who was present in the theatre and who had taken a shine to the leading lady, applauded her opening aria warmly. Compare that success with Donizetti’s Emilia di Liverpool that had bitten the dust following a mere eight outings after its premiere in the same city a couple of months before. The Donizetti is of at least comparable standard musically (see review). The presence of Royalty favoured Donizetti for his Il Castello di Kenilworth (July 1829) during the composition of which he showed the early signs of the syphilis that was to kill him and which caused a delay in the premiere. After that success he had to take six months sick leave from his Naples duties during which his wife gave birth to their first child who lived only two weeks. A commission for the small Naples Teatro Fondo was followed by Il Dulvio universale (see review) for the Lenten period at the San Carlo.

Il Dulvio universale is characteristically melodic and was well received except for the scene of The Flood where the staging, but not the music, was whistled. Meanwhile the composer prepared Imelda de’ Lambertazzi for later in the season. Perhaps Donizetti was emboldened by his selection, alongside Bellini to compose a new work for the 1830-31 season in Milan set up by local aristocracy to rival La Scala. For this he wrote Anna Bolena, which brought him international recognition. Certainly his Imelda de’ Lambertazzi, premiered in Naples on 5 September 1830, is completely different in musical style to what Donizetti had composed before. It is as though he deliberately set out to push his own creativity towards new horizons. I have to plead that my first listening took me wholly by surprise, not having read Jeremy Commons’ informative booklet essay and analysis. The musical form and vitality with chorus, trios and duets replacing the usual stream of arias and florid decorated cabalettas breaks new boundaries. Commons suggests that the style of the work was too new for the audience and being a naked drama such as he had never conceived before contributed to the poor initial and subsequent audience reception that disappointed Donizetti greatly. The opera received a mere two performances in Naples that season where the audience expected their more usual diet of bel canto solos and florid coloratura arias. Never again did Donizetti venture so far off the well-beaten path. The music of Imelda de’ Lambertazzi is inventive virile and dramatic as behoves its tragic plot. The Naples audience of 1830 were not as receptive to Donizetti’s creation as Milan’s La Scala ten years later when Verdi presented an equally ground-breaking and musically virile Nabucco to an unsuspecting audience. As far as this recording is concerned, the impact of the vibrancy and vitality of the music is enhanced by the leaner orchestral timbre of The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. They are a period band using appropriate instruments under the idiomatic and sympathetic conducting of Mark Elder. Elder contributes a brief essay titled Donizetti on Period Instruments.

Tottola’s libretto for Imelda was based on a play seen in Naples in 1825. It concerns the incessant thirteenth century conflicts in Bologna between the Ghibelines and Guelphs and is in outline not dissimilar to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet story. The only female in the cast is the eponymous Imelda Lambertazzi, daughter of the chief Ghibelline magistrate of Bologna. She is in love with Bonifacio Geremi, leader of the Guelphs. The liaison is bitterly opposed by Lamberto, Imelda’s fanatical brother. Lamberto rejects Bonifacio’s attempts at reconciliation, tempts him into a trap and kills him with a sword dipped in poison. Imelda dies after sucking the poison from his wounds in a vain attempt to save him.

The allocation of roles to voice registers is unusual. The lover, Bonifacio is sung by a baritone whilst Imelda’s brother and father are both tenors, but of a distinctly different vocal timbre. The days of the Naples florid singing duo of Giovanni David and Andrea Nozzari, accommodated so memorably by Rossini in his opera seria for the city, were long gone. However, the theatre roster had two tenors who had to be accommodated. Here the father, Orlando, is sung by the American Frank Lopardo, one-time Rossinian who graduated to lyric Verdi in the mid-1990s. He emerges with a dark-toned, near spinto voice, in the opening scene (CD 1 trs.1-4) and elsewhere. Lamberto, Imelda’s brother and the real baddy of the story is sung with somewhat lighter tones but with typical Italian squilla and adequate heft, by Massimo Giordano. His strong dramatic voice inflects his lines with sensitivity; he phrases with elegance whilst being fully in character and excellent in diction and expression. He is best heard in the act two scene with Imelda as he forces her to admit her love for Lamberto and reminds her of the harsh treatment of their mother by the enemy Guelphs (CD 2 trs1-3). Brindley Sherratt sings his henchman, Ubaldo, with strong steady bass tones in several ensembles.

What florid singing there is in Imelda falls, rather strangely for opera, to the baritone lover, Bonifacio (CD 2 trs.5-8). James Westman sings the role with smooth well covered and coloured tone although his approach is a little studied and could have been freer. He is new to me. Looking at the photographs in the booklet he is fairly young and if his vocal skill and characterisation here is carried onto the opera stage with this standard of performance it points to a considerable career. That is what Nicole Cabell in the eponymous role expected, and to some extent is achieving, after winning the major Cardiff operatic prize. I guess that Opera Rara in signing her hoped for a similar outcome to when they got Renée Fleming equally early in her career for the title role in their recording of Donizetti’s Rosmonda D'lnghilterra (see review). That role is more the traditional Donizetti soprano with decorated florid singing to the fore. Imelda on the other hand requires a soprano with a well-coloured lower range or even a mezzo with soprano extension. On the basis of her Cardiff performance Cabell would fit the bill. Regrettably, she was either nervous or having vocal problems at the time of the recording and is tremulous in her opening cavatina (CD 1 trs.6-8) and lacking dramatic thrust and ideal vocal impact elsewhere. As I have indicated, Donizetti’s creation broke new grounds and did not pay heed to tradition. Imelda does not get a display aria to die with, rather a quick dispatch in a dozen bars (Cd 2 Tr.16). Maybe to placate his soprano for the following year’s brief revival the composer wrote a more traditional aria finale for the soprano and this is included as an appendix (CD 2 tr.17).

I need hardly say that this recording is presented in the superior boxed manner that has always have been Opera Rara’s hallmark. Likewise, it is accompanied by a full libretto with English translation and the usual scholarly essay by Dr. Jeremy Commons. This essay, as always, gives previously unknown insights into the period of composition as well as the work under consideration. As well as the essays referred to, the booklet has a full libretto and translation in English. There is also a full track-listing and a synopsis in English, French, German and Italian. The sound from the hybrid CD/SACD discs is first rate in both formats on my reference system.

Robert J Farr


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