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Ottorino RESPIGHI (1879-1936)
La Campana sommersa (The Sunken Bell) - opera in four acts (1925-27)
Rautendelein ... Laura Aikin (soprano)
Enrico ... John Daszak
Ondino ... Roderick Earle
The Faun ... Kevin Connors (tenor)
Magda ... Alessandro Rezza
The Curate ... Peter Klaveness (bass)
The Schoolmaster ... Paul Kong (baritone)
The Barber ... David Alegret (tenor)
Sorceress ... Ewa Wolak (contralto)
Orchestre National de Montpellier et Choeur Opéra Junior/Friedemann Layer
Rec. live, 4 Oct 2003, Opéra Berlioz – (Le Corum) au Festival de Radio France et Montpellier
ACCORD 2 CD 476 1884 [73: 40 + 69:39]
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For full details of the plot, its derivation and philosophy, and the history of the composition, production and early performances of Respighi’s opera, La campana sommersa please see my article that accompanies this review.

La campana sommersa was one of Respighi’s most successful works. It is an interesting piece not the least because of its philosophical ambiguities. On the surface it appears to be a story of the conflict of orthodox Christian faith with older, more pagan beliefs as represented by the fairy folk: Ondine, the water sprite, the Faun (the spirit of the woods) and the heroine, Rautendelein, the elf-girl. Respighi confessed to having fallen in love with the character of Rautendelein. His wife, Elsa, observed that, in this opera, he revealed his predilection for the world of nature and fable. Respighi had a complex personality, torn between ascetic ideals, often reaching the domain of pantheistic mysticism and the sensual realities of the world.

Respighi’s mastery of the orchestra - luscious harmonies and resplendent orchestrations - is apparent immediately in invoking the magic of the opening scene – ‘an upland meadow enclosed by sonorous fir trees’. The composer commented that he felt the music take wing, creating a world that mixes reality and fable as we meet the elf Rautendenlein and the water sprite Ondino. Respighi’s sure touch in creating atmosphere and dramatic tension permeates this appealing work. I should mention two more examples. The first is the oppressiveness and ambiguously moral tone of the mining scene in Act III where Enrico angrily forces the dwarves to forge the bell to adorn his inspirational temple to the sun. The second is the powerful Act III dénouement when the ghosts of Enrico’s children appear carrying a bowl of his wife Magda’s tears. The sunken bell tolls ominously and accusingly as her spectral fingers touch it at the bottom of the lake.

Friedemann Layer and the Montpellier orchestra impress strongly, delivering a powerfully dramatic and colourful reading sensitive to the drama’s quicksilver mood changes.

As Rautendelein, the elf who craves romance with a human, Laura Aiken is appealingly sweet, a powerful and clear coloratura. Respighi gives Rautendelein some of the loveliest lyrical vocal lines in the opera which Aiken weaves quite silkily. John Daszak seizes all his varied expressive opportunities, as Enrico. He is tender in his Puccini-like love duets with Rautendenlein, angered and frustrated as he impatiently admonishes his dwarf bell-builders, ecstatic as he articulates his dream of a wondrous temple and horrified, full of revulsion, when he discovers the consequences of abandoning Magda. For Ondino, Roderick Earle’s bass voice nicely mixes authority and vulnerability as he expresses his loss of Rautendelein. Kevin Connors is outstanding as the malicious Faun whose mischievous action in wrecking the cart carrying the bell up the mountain and thus plunging it to the bottom of the lake precipitates the tragedy.

A fine recording of one of Respighi’s most successful and appealing operas. A must for all Respighi fans.

Ian Lace

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