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Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797–1848)
Linda di Chamounix (1842)
Edita Gruberova (soprano) – Linda; Deon van der Walt (tenor) – Carlo, Visconte di Sirval; Jacob Will (bass) – Il Marchese di Boisfleury; László Polgár (bass) – Il Prefetto; Armando Ariostini (baritone) – Antonio, padre di Linda; Nadine Asher (mezzo-soprano) – Maddalena, madre di Linda; Cornelia Kallisch (mezzo-soprano) – Pierotto; Miroslav Christoff (baritone) – L’Intendente del feudo
Chorus and Orchestra from the Zürich Opera/Adam Fischer
rec. live, Opernhaus Zürich, September 1996
Directed for stage by Daniel Schmid, Set Design: Erich Wonder; Costume Design: Florence von Gerkan, Lighting: Jakob Schlossstein, Jürgen Hoffman
Directed for DVD by Alf Bernhard-Leonardi
TDK DV-OPLDCM [2 DVDs: 164:00]


The year 1842 was an unusually good one for new operas. On March 9 La Scala launched Verdi’s break-through work Nabucco, on October 20 the Court Opera in Dresden premiered Wagner’s Rienzi, December 9 saw the first performance of Ruslan and Ludmila in St. Petersburg and the last day of the year Altes Theater in Leipzig showed Lortzing’s Der Wildschütz, all of them works that can be seen at times even today. In between, on 19 May Donizetti’s Linda di Chamounix had had its premiere at the Kärntnertortheater in Vienna and was a tremendous success, the composer himself conducting. The Emperor immediately named him Court Composer and Court Kapellmeister and the Empress handed over a scarf on which she had personally embroidered in gold “The Empress of Austria to Donizetti on the night of May 19 1842 for the opera Linda”. The opera played all over Europe, even as far away as Finland, but eventually it disappeared, as did most of Donizetti’s 70+ operas - the exact number is difficult to clarify exactly since he tended to rework many of his compositions, sometimes to such a degree that they could be seen as new works. After Linda he only wrote four new operas, Caterina Cornaro, Don Pasquale, Maria di Rohan and Dom Sébastien.

‘Melodramma in tre atti’ says the libretto, sometimes it is named ‘opera semi-seria’, since it is not a tragedy – it has a happy end. It even includes a genuine buffo role, the evil character of the play, Marchese, since it in those days was impossible in Vienna to portray an aristocrat as a crook.

The story: Act I: ‘The Departure from Chamounix’ Antonio, a poor farmer has asked the Marchese for help. The latter contemplates employing his daughter Linda as a maid but wants to see her first. Linda is secretly in love with Carlo, a poor painter, who actually is the Visconte di Sirval, a relative of the Marchese’s. Pierotto, a friend of Linda’s from her youth, sings a sad song about a girl who is betrayed by her lover and Linda gets suspicious about Carlo’s intentions. The prefect warns Antonio about the Marchese and asks him to send Linda to a factory in Paris. Act II:’Paris’ Linda lives in a luxurious flat, owned by Carlo, whom she knows is the Visconte. He wants to marry Linda, but his mother wants him to marry another woman. Pierotto comes and tells Linda about the preparations for Carlo’s wedding and Linda goes mad. Act III: ‘The Return to Chamounix’  Pierotto has brought Linda back to her home village and everybody is distressed about her state of mind. She doesn’t recognize anybody, not even her mother. Carlo arrives, having finally talked himself out of the planned wedding and persuades his mother to accept his marrying Linda. By singing a song from their happy time together he manages to bring her back to her former self and all involved rejoice.

The action takes place in the 1760s. Here the director Daniel Schmid has set the story more or less as a picture book with stylized backdrops and inventive lighting. In the first and last act the Alps are suggested in the background, while the Paris act is set in a suitably luxurious state-room, where a host of servants are busy doing their chores in the background. Sometimes he uses projections, for example when Pierotto tells Linda about Carlo’s wedding preparations. In spite of the dramatic occurrences the performance feels rather static, but it comes to life in the buffo episodes with the Marchese and there are some lively choruses. Long stretches of the play are also shown in over-views and at ‘half-distance’ which means that we do not make contact with the characters. Deon van der Walt as Carlo has fine stage presence and Armando Ariostini creates an excellent dramatic portrait of Linda’s father. Cornelia Kallisch is a lively and charming actor in the trouser-role of Pierotto. As for Edita Gruberova she is mostly either sad or mad and she acts accordingly – not a deep portrait maybe but quite touching. Jacob Will makes the most of the comic opportunities as Marchese while the wonderful basso cantante László Polgár is fully satisfied standing upright with arms along the sides whatever the emotions, but pouring out bel canto singing of the highest order.

And the singing is the best reason to get this set – and of course the music, which to a great extent will probably be unknown to most listeners. Suffice to say that it is – mostly – top-drawer Donizetti and that is a recommendation in itself. One also notices some inventive patches of orchestration. The most well-known music – to me, at least – was Antonio’s first act aria Ambo nati in questa valle (DVD1 Ch. 6) well sung by Armando Ariostini. Readers who own the Donizetti recital from the late 1970s with Renato Bruson, once available in Decca’s ‘Grandi voci’ series, will recognise it at once, and Linda’s O luce di quest’anima (DVD1 Ch. 12) has been recorded by many coloratura sopranos through the ages. Edita Gruberova is in her element here with that perfect trill and the same ability as Montserrat Caballé to scale down to that ravishing pianissimo without losing the quality of tone. The aria creates a furore lasting – it seems – several minutes. She has many opportunities to show her capacity and vocally this is a tour de force. Cornelia Kallisch also makes a very favourable impression while Jacob Will is more character singer than bel canto-ist. Deon van der Walt, recently sadly deceased in a shooting accident, was a very fine Mozart singer but his light lyrical voice has enough power to make him a good Donizetti singer too and with his good taste he never presses more than what is good for him. A very convincing interpretation.

Adam Fischer leads a well-paced performance and the sound and picture quality cannot be faulted. There are plentiful index-points for easy access to individual numbers and since this is the only DVD available of the opera it is self-recommending. Sound recordings have also been few and far between: a Cetra set from 1951 with Margherita Carosio, a Philips set from 1959, conducted by Tullio Serafin and with Antonietta Stella as Linda (it was available in the ‘Opera Collector’ series on CD), which was also the case with a live performance from La Scala (1872), Gavazzeni conducting, Margherita Rinaldi singing Linda and ‘dream couple’ Alfredo Kraus and Renato Bruson as Carlo and Antonio. In 1993 Nightingale recorded it in Stockholm with Gruberova (as here) and Monica Groop as Pierotto. Finally there was an Arts set (1994) with Mariella Devia and Luca Canonici. Unfortunately I haven’t heard any of these and I also missed the concerts in Stockholm where the Nightingale set was recorded.

With good singing and in some cases inspired acting this DVD-only version of Linda can be safely recommended.

Göran Forsling






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