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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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At last we have the premier world recording of what was probably the most successful of Ottorino Respighi's operas. It has been well worth waiting for.

Respighi fell in love with the character of Rautendelein, the water nymph of Hauptmann's poem. He shows her frivolity, love, egocentricity, lack of care for others, cunning, magic powers and, finally, her magnanimity. Respighi's own nature was compounded of fantasy, realism and morality, which certainly accounts for his fascination with her, as he matches her and her fairy world against the solid reality of Enrico's loving wife and children.

This is a recording of the 2003 Montpellier festival performance, with all the immediacy that brings. Its 140 minutes are blessed by two fine sopranos and an excellent orchestra which makes the most of the brilliant scoring. Rautendelein is sung by Laura Aikin in an inspired portrayal, her fine voice perfectly conveying the fabulous and mercurial temperament of the water nymph.

The story begins with Enrico, the bell caster, being injured, when elves cause the bell he is bringing to a new chapel to fall to the bottom of the lake. Despite warnings not to meddle with humans, Rautendelein tends him, using her magic powers to persuade him to leave his family and to make a fabulous bell for a pantheistic temple. Though anathematised by the pastor, he agrees to this, provided the sunken bell does not ring. Deserted by him, Enrico's wife throws herself into the lake, causing the bell to sound. Finally, having lost his family, he searches for Rautendelein and she forgives his abandonment of her.

Respighi's concern to convey the supernatural both musically and visually extended to detailed stage directions, with all but one act having the scenery and lighting of a world of fantasy. There are passages of great drama, while Enrico is torn between the charm of the supernatural world and the reality of his wife and children. Most poignant of all is the music accompanying the ghostly appearance of his children, holding the bowl containing the bitter tears of his wife. The sunken bell had pealed tragically from the lake's depths as, in suicide, her body grazed it.

The premiere world recording of what was probably the most successful of Respighi's operas in an excellent performance.

Anthony Barker

[This Review first appeared in the FRMS Bulletin]

see also review by Ian Lace

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