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Vincenzo BELLINI (1801 - 1835)
Beatrice di Tenda - complete (1832)
Edita Gruberova, Beatrice di Tenda
Michael Volle, Filippo Maria Visconti
Stephania Kaluza, Agnese del Maino
Raul Hernandez, Orombello
Miroslav Christoff, Anichino
Boguslaw Bidzinski, Rizzardo del Maino
Chorus and Orchestra of the Zurich Opera House/Marcello Viotti.
Director: Alexander Pereira, Sets: Bernhard Kleber, Costumes: Florence von Gerkan.
recorded at the Zurich Opera House, Zurich, December, 2001, DVD
This is a co-production between Bel Air Media, Mezzo, TV 10 Angers and Zurich Opera House.
TDK DV-OPBDT [2 DVDs: 144 minutes plus 26 minutes special features].

 

Bellini was among the first of composers who wrote non-formulaic operas, where the music was carefully tailored to the words and the meaning behind them. His operas were described as "filosofica" with the music tailored to the words of the libretto. It also conjures up the feelings behind the words and how these mesh with the engaged listener.

Bellini took great pains to make his music fit the words of the story, and so it is almost mandatory that the producers and directors of the performance try to recreate the story for the audience. Bellini was also one of the first of the so-called bel canto composers who created musical lines which flowed graciously and smoothly. He aimed at creating an atmosphere which earlier opera composers had not really considered.

Beatrice di Tenda is a relatively late work of the composer, completed only two years before his death. At this point in time, he had the successes of Norma and La Sonnambula behind him. He had little to prove. He started looking for a new subject for an opera in 1832, and he and his librettist, had decided to write an opera for Stockholm, Fontainebleau and Rome by Alexandre Dumas, the most successful of the Romantic ‘stage’ novelists next to Victor Hugo. It very shortly became apparent that this subject was too vast to be viably converted into a successful opera. Their attention then switched to the story of Beatrice di Tenda, a real person who lived in the 15th Century. On 16th May 1412, Giovanni Maria Visconti, the Duke of Milan, was the victim of a conspiracy. At the same time, the famous commander Facino Cane died and his widow, Beatrice de’ Lascari, also known as Beatrice di Tenda, was given command of an army well versed in battle, which until then had fought under her husband’s banner. Thanks to Beatrice’s support, Filippo Maria Visconti, the brother of the murdered Giovanni Maria, succeeded in defeating the conspirators and in recapturing the Dukedom of Milan. He married Beatrice soon afterwards. However, after only six years he tired of his wife and fell in love with Agnese del Maino. In order for him to end his marriage, he accused his wife of having an affair with a courtier, Michele Orombello. He had Beatrice tortured and beheaded at Castle Binasco during the night of 13th to 14th September 1418.

The first performance of the opera was given at the Teatro la Fenice in Venice on the 16th March 1873 and was an abysmal failure. Shouts of "Norma! Norma!" were heard from the gallery , which was a clear indication that the audience missed the bel canto style in Beatrice di Tenda. In his new opera, Bellini did not continue, as he did in Norma, with the virtuosity and coloratura artistry of the voices, but explored a new way of musical expression, which brought to the fore a new warmth and different characteristics. Indeed the second performance already had a much warmer response from the audience. It was performed in Florence, Turin, Bologna, Rome, Vienna and Paris between 1834 and 1855. It returned to La Fenice in 1844. Although it is one of Bellini’s less popular operas, the title role is a popular showpiece with sopranos.

In recent times the main contender for the principal soprano was Joan Sutherland, and her Decca CD issue of the opera is still in the catalogue.

In the current issue, Edita Gruberova, whilst completely competent in the role, is no Joan Sutherland. She wobbles in her tone whereas the Australian Diva was rock steady, and where Sutherland produced a glorious steady tone of true bel canto, Gruberova is a mere shadow of her illustrious predecessor. The other voices in this production are fine, whilst the orchestral contribution is first rate, with Marcello Viotti making a very fine contribution to the proceedings with the orchestra and chorus of Zurich Opera delivering all he could possibly want.

If the less than perfect singing was all that concerned me, I would be recommending this release almost without reservation, but what I find absolutely damning about this release is the production. When the story is set in the 1400s, why on earth put it in the 20th Century in modern dress. For me this totally ruins a reasonably good performance, together with fine visual and sound quality. The producer should be taken to task for ruining an otherwise perfectly acceptable performance.

If on the other hand you are not disconcerted by the practice of dressing traditional operas up in modern dress, you are unlikely to find a better performance in the catalogue.


John Phillips



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