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Vincenzo BELLINI (1801-1835)
Beatrice di Tenda - opera seria in two acts (1833)
Filippo Maria Visconti, Duke of Milan, Paola Gavanelli (bar); Beatrice Di Tenda, his wife, Lucia Aliberti, (sop); Agnese Del Maino, beloved by Filippo and secretly in love with Orambello, Camille Capasso (mezzo); Orombello, Lord of Ventimiglia and secretly in love with Beatrice, Martin Thompson (ten); Anichino, friend of Orombello, John David Dehaan (ten); Rizzardo Del Maino, Agnese’s brother and confident of Filippo, Raymond Martin (ten)
Chorus and Orchestra of the Deutschen Oper Berlin/Fabio Luisi
rec. Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin. July 1992
BERLIN CLASSICS BC 1042-2 [72.55 + 76.30]

 

 

Of all Bellini’s last four operas that followed the success of I Capuleti e I Montecchi in Florence in March 1830, Beatrice di Tenda is the most neglected in performance and on record. The work followed on from the triumph of Norma which had opened the Carnival Season at La Scala on 26 December 1831. With Giuditta Pasta as the eponymous priestess it was performed thirty nine times in the season to massive acclaim. Whilst in Milan, Bellini and Pasta attended a performance of the ballet Beatrice di Tenda at La Scala.

After Milan Bellini went to Palermo, his hometown where performances of his operas were given in his honour. In the autumn he signed a contract for a new opera to be presented at La Fenice and to follow performances of Norma, which was to open the season. Both the new opera and Norma would feature Pasta. The first subject suggested by the librettist Felice Romani did not appeal to Bellini and rather late in the day he persuaded his colleague to change the subject to Beatrice di Tenda. Romani was already committed to libretti for no fewer than five other composers and the verses were so slow in coming that Bellini and the impresario took legal action to speed up the poet. This didn’t help what had previously been an excellent relationship. Although delivery of the verses speeded up, their laggardly arrival only just allowed the opera to be squeezed in before the conclusion of the season and this was after revision of the libretto by Armando Gatto. The opera was first performed at the Teatro La Fenice, Venice on 16 March 1833. It was not well received, audience and critics viewing some of the music as a re-hash of Norma. Despite these views Beatrice di Tenda was soon performed in Milan and Naples. It reached London in 1836 and New York in 1844. In all those venues it was well received. Beatrice di Tenda may not have the flowing Bellinean cantilena of Norma, or its successor and the composer’s final opera I Puritani, but it does have all the composer’s attributes and is a vehicle for bel-canto singing.

The action takes place at Binasco Castle, near Milan in 1418. Agnese, one of Beatrice’s ladies-in-waiting is in love with Orombello. She is loved by Filippo, Duke of Milan, Beatrice’s husband. Agnese helps Filipo to get rid of his wife, Beatrice, of whom he has tired, by falsely accusing her of being the lover of Orombello. Under torture Orombello, who does love Beatrice, makes a false confession, which he later retracts. Filippo orders the execution of Beatrice and Orombello but hesitates to sign the death warrant after a plea for mercy by the now repentant Agnese. The arrival of Beatrice’s supporters demanding her release hardens him and he signs the warrant. The opera ends as Beatrice is led away to her death.

On record Joan Sutherland’s 1966 recording (Decca 433 706-2) has dominated the catalogue with rivals, except for Gruberova on her Nightingale label (NC070560-2), having only a transient life. This present recording was made shortly after a series of concert performances. Its strengths are in the vibrant and dramatic conducting of Fabio Luisi and the contribution of the chorus and orchestra of the Deutschen Oper Berlin. But just as the initial run of the work in Venice in 1831 depended on Giuditta Pasta, so will this recording be judged on the strengths of Lucia Aliberti as Beatrice. Her lyric coloratura has not the fullness of tone of Sutherland or her virtuosity in florid passages. She does score over ‘La Stupenda’ in slightly better diction but with the soloists set well behind the orchestras and chorus and with a resonant bloom around the voices that is a marginal issue. Her characterisation is good in Beatrice’s act 1 cavatina with chorus, ‘Respirio io qui’ (CD 1 trs. 10-14) as she laments herself as a broken flower; likewise in her final prayer (CD 2 trs.26-27). Significantly Lucia Aliberti cannot always sustain a legato line to the extent that Gruberova can. Where the Nightingale recording scores over Sutherland’s and over this issue is in the presence of Vesselina Kasarova as Agnese with her rich-toned and vibrant characterisation. Camille Capasso’s high lyric mezzo is adequate but does not erase memories of Kasarova or Veasey with Sutherland.

Martin Thompson as Orombello is no rival for the young Pavarotti for Italianate squilla, but he sings with clear open tone and good diction (CD 1 trs. 24-26). After something of a rough start the real solo vocal power in this performance comes with the singing and characterisation of Paola Gavanelli as Filippo. There are times when his incisive clear diction and excellent portrayal of Filippo’s cruel and self-serving character reminds me of the young Tito Gobbi. That comparison might be gilding the lily a little too much, but Gavanelli’s portrayal is superior to recorded rivals and together with the orchestra, chorus and conductor is the main strength of this issue.

The booklet has photographs of the singers and artist profiles to 1993. There is an essay on the opera and a clear synopsis in German, French and English. The libretto is given in full but with a translation in German only.

Robert J Farr

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