is a little considered concept which, knowingly or unknowingly,
we seek throughout our lives; as a child from parents and teachers;
as an adult from employers, friends and those who govern us.
let me apply that simple philosophy to CDs and in particular to
this recording of Bellini’s final opera. Bellini took his time
composing; not for him the churned out 2 or 3 compositions each
year. It was a year’s work to give the world a superb example
of a bel canto opera: dripping with melody, abounding in emotion-twitching
modulations and full of passion and exquisite sound. So far, so
excellent; but let us remind ourselves that in any recording Arturo
comes over as a bit of an excitable twit with a failed villain
in Riccardo. Set in the English Civil War, with its terrible family
divisions, the opera uses those issues as background only to the
real theme: rejected innocence descending into disturbed sanity
and back again.
me now consider consistency from a reviewer’s point of view. By
what standard should this recording be judged? By the standard
of recordings of opera at other Italian opera houses; or by the
international standards set by the world’s best leading exponents
in the premier opera houses or recording studios? For consistency
I believe that the benchmark must be international for otherwise
any review would have to carry a ‘standards’ labelling. With that
background I now turn to the CD itself, whilst noting as a preliminary
point that consistency does not apply to this recording: it is
a real curate’s egg.
first serious drawback is extraneous noise. When next recording
at the Teatro Massimo Bellini perhaps a free issue of cough sweets
would be helpful; and what causes the all too frequent creaking
sound? Is it adjustment of music stands or expanding plastic under
arc lights? The Sinfonia includes these distractions which sadly
appear intermittently, and therefore consistently, throughout
opening scene with Mario Bolognesi as Sir Bruno starts badly with
an "All’erta" which sounds half-asleep, but improves
quickly with Bolognesi’s clear timbre and diction, setting the
background with orchestra and chorus. Unfortunately here, and
at some later points in the recording, the orchestra, with some
variable pacing, is allowed to dominate the proceedings with too
much forte. That causes a loss of some of the power of
the teasing modulations, and that loss is exacerbated by a lack
of dynamics. The really annoying inconsistency is that at other
points they provide just the right supportive background: for
example for Arturo’s "A te, o cara…" Stefano
Secco, as that impetuous Cavalier, middles his notes and rises
well to the high vocal points and never loses a syllable. That
scene closes with excellent dynamics and vocal balance. Those
same observations apply later in the great larghetto ensemble
where all the contributions can be distinguished clearly.
learn from the booklet that Stefania Bonfadelli, who sings Elvira,
began her career in 1997, this live recording being made four
years later. That we have a young sounding Elvira is authentically
excellent. The obverse is the inevitable lack of vocal maturity.
Her opening off-stage quartet proves that when singing piano
she can produce a seriously sweet sound as she does at several
later points – even towards the outer limits of her vocal range.
In her difficult "Son vergin…" she middles her
notes and enunciates with remarkable clarity: strangely the girlish
lighter touch is not evident here, which I would have expected
her youth to provide without difficulty. Where her vocal immaturity
is evident is the aria "Qui la voce…" Whilst
concluding it with a delightful descending run she did not sound
comfortable in the earlier sections. Later when Elvira is returning
to normality the mental change is not particularly evident vocally.
always think that the role of Sir Giorgio is difficult: he is
more a commentator or scene-setter than character. Michele Pertusi
sings the role well enough but tries to overcome the composers
limitations upon him by dramatising everything. Then when he has
the opportunity to distinguish between recital and plea in "Io
cominciai…" there is no real change of intonation available.
His delivery of the lilting melody "Piangi, o figlia…"
would not send me home whistling the tune.
Chernov sings Riccardo, the purported villain, without any great
evidence of characterisation. He appears to concentrate on producing
the notes and never really relaxes into the role. He does not
project the smooth vocal technics which we expect in "Bel sogno
Nardinocchi despatches competently the supporting role of Valton.
Annamaria Popescu’s rich mezzo, as Enrichetta provides the most
vocal colouring. Her interchanges with Nardinocchi being warm
whilst with Secco her full sound seems to encourage him towards
colouring and characterisation even if his recognition of his
Queen is undramatically delivered.
leads neatly into the booklet with its Italian libretto, without
translation. Curiously the introduction, the synopsis and the
biographies are in both German and English but not Italian, which
must point the finger at the intended market for the recording.
Therefore, first, with no translation, if you wish to follow and
understand the libretto word for word, you must be reasonably
fluent in Italian. For those who are not, the synopsis is brief
but adequate save for describing Enrichetta as the Queen of France.
She was never a French Queen: she was the daughter, and later
sister, of a French King and the mother of two English Kings.
Her only throne was English. Her historical importance for the
plot, which explains Arturo’s response, is that she was the widow
of Charles I. Incidentally I would have preferred consistency
between the booklet and the back of the box: the former describes
it, conventionally, as set out in the title to this review whilst
the back of the box describes it as an "Opera in three Acts".
A small point but a somewhat careless inconsistency.
length of Part I always creates problems: it has to be ‘broken’
somewhere and the choice here is as good as any. However with
a final disc of only 38 minutes it is curious that a chunk of
the final Elvira / Arturo duet has been omitted. It is not the
most exciting part but it does lead climactically into Arturo’s
explanation that the unknown lady was his Queen. Further the libretto
does not make the omission clear by square brackets or whatever.
will conclude with my opening theme: there are too many inconsistencies
in this recording. It is not one that I would add to my collection.