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Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)
Linda di Chamounix Melodrama in three acts (1842)
Edita Gruberova (sop) ...Linda
Deon van der Walt (ten)...Carlo, Visconte di Sirval
Jacob Will (buffo)..Marchese di Boisefleury
László Polgár (bass)...Il prefetto
Armando Ariostini (bar)...Antonio, Linda’s father
Nadine Asher (sop)..Maddalena, Linda’s mother
Miroslav Christoff (ten)...L’Intendente
Cornelia Kallisch (mezzo-sop)...Pierotto
Orchestra and Chorus of the Zurich Opera House/Adam Fischer
Recorded Zurich, September1996
TDK DV-OPLDC [2 DVD discs: 164 mins]

Here is a useless piece of information. Of Donizetti’s huge output over one third of the operas’ titles include women’s names. As Michael Caine once famously said, "Not many people know that". I do because, sad though it may seem, I looked it up. But how many of those do you know? Well there is Elizabeth (Queen), Maria (Stuart), Anna (Boleyn), even Emily (Liverpool) and, of course, Lucia (Lammermoor). But Linda may come as a surprise to some (and I bet you didn’t know there was a Rita. Rita?!).

Those who watch this DVD of Zurich Opera’s production of Linda for the first time may well wonder why the work is not firmly in the repertory, holding its own with Lucia and L’elisir d’amore. After all, it was ecstatically received at its first performance in Vienna in 1842, the already famous composer taking 17 curtain calls. Thereafter it had a rampaging success throughout Europe. Dramatically it is conventionally sound with a good old-fashioned tale of aristocratic sexual exploitation set against genuine love during the course of which Linda loses her sanity. Donizetti, incidentally, thought the mad scene superior to the one he wrote for Lucia. In the end, all turns out happy ever after.

There is much marvellous music and the Zurich team does it fine justice. Linda’s entry, dramatically delayed until nearly 20 minutes from the beginning (from curtain-up, that is). The fine overture is missing in this recording, perhaps justified through it being a later, revisionist addition of Donizetti’s. She opens with some tuneful recitative leading to a deliciously joyful scherzoesque aria. In 1996, when this recording was made, Edita Gruberova was already – shall we say – in the Indian Summer of her career. Thus, to look at, she may not easily convince as the young damsel Linda but on hearing her sing this first number it is easy to be convinced that there can be no-one better to sing it. Just listen to her effortless negotiation of hair-raising coloratura, the seemingly infinite gradations of tone and dynamic and the perfectly judged flexibility of phrasing. As the opera progresses it becomes clear that this is as virtuoso a coloratura role as any Donizetti wrote.

But this is no one-woman performance. As lover and father, Deon van der Walt and Armando Ariostini respectively sing with satisfying lyricism and as the nasty Marquese, Jacob Will gives a punchy account with vivid acting that just manages to stop short of over-caricature. The production is a well integrated ensemble affair – so often the case at Zurich – and the stage designs are in the pleasing, no-nonsense category. Adam Fischer conducts with sensitive dependability.

The performance is preceded by a helpful sub-titled synopsis which introduces the characters in visual context. It opens by telling us that the villagers are preparing for their Winter migration to Paris over Mont Blanc. Well I have taken the cable car from Chamonix over the Mont Blanc Massif and that took me into Italy. Something awry with the geography here!

John Leeman

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