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Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)
Adelia - opera seria in three acts (1841)
Adelia, a young girl - Michela Sburlati (soprano); Arnoldo, her father and a commoner – Andrea Silvestrelli (bass); Count Oliviero, a nobleman in love with Adelia – Davis Sotgiu (tenor); Duke Carlo, the local ruler – Giulio Mastrototaro (baritone)
Haydn Choir; Haydn Orchestra von Bozen und Trient/Gustav Kuhn
rec. 11-16 December 2006, Auditorium, Bozen
Sung in Italian. Libretto and translation as PDF (CD 2).
BMG-RCA RED SEAL 86697 10813 2 [54.25 + 67.03]

After his seventh opera, Zoraida di Granata (see review) was premiered in Rome in 1822, Donizetti’s stock rose rapidly. Domenico Barbaja, impresario of the Royal Theatres of Naples, faced with the loss of Rossini to Paris, contracted the young composer. Fifteen of the twenty operas Donizetti composed in the remainder of the decade were premiered in Naples. But it was in Milan rather than Naples that his big breakthrough came. There in 1830 the Duke of Litta and two rich associates formed a Society to sponsor opera at La Scala. They were concerned to raise the musical standards that had seen Rossini, Meyerbeer and others decamp to Paris. They engaged most of the famous singers of the time including Giuditta Pasta and the tenor Giovanni Battista Rubini. Donizetti and Bellini, recognised as the two best Italian composers of the day were each contracted to write an opera for the season to a libretto set by the renowned Felice Romani. Litta and his associates failed to secure La Scala for their plans, which were realised at the Teatro Carcano. It was in that theatre that Anna Bolena was first heard on 26 December 1830. It spread Donizetti’s name around the world.
With his horizons widening and constantly being frustrated by the censors in Naples, who demanded happy endings, Donizetti cancelled his contract in 1832 and left the city. Two years later he returned as musical director of the Royal Theatres and a contract to write one opera seria for the San Carlo each year. The first of these was to have been Maria Stuarda, but the censors interfered, again objecting to the tragic ending. In little more than two weeks Donizetti rearranged the music to a new libretto, Buondelmonte. Needless to say it was only a moderate success, but Rossini invited Donizetti to Paris where he presented Marino Faliero at the Théâtre Italien. Donizetti, seeing the higher musical standards and also enjoying the better remuneration available in Paris, planned to return. Back in Naples he presented Lucia di Lamermoor. It was rapturously received. With the premature death of Bellini in the same year, and Rossini no longer composing opera, Donizetti could claim pre-eminence among Italian opera composers. He fulfilled his contract at the San Carlo with L’assedio di Calais in 1836, Roberto Devereux (see review) the following year and wrote Poliuto for 1838. This story of Christian martyrdom in Roman times worried the censors. With the work complete Donizetti was told that the King, a deeply religious man, had personally forbidden its staging in Naples and Pia de’ Tolomei (see reviews of the CD and DVD) was substituted in its place.
The banning of Poliuto was the final straw for Donizetti who left Naples for Paris in October 1838. Once there he agreed to write two operas in French. For the first he turned to Poliuto and engaged Eugene Scribe to produce a French text based on Cammarano’s Italian libretto. Whilst awaiting the ever dilatory Scribe to complete the new libretto, Donizetti presented a French version of Lucia and wrote La Fille du Régiment premiered at the Opéra Comique on 11 February 1840. For the revised Poliuto he rewrote the recitatives, divided act one in two and wrote a new finale. He also added arias, trios and the de rigueur ballet. The new four-act version was premiered as Les Martyrs at The Opéra on 10 March 1840 (see review). Poliuto in its original form was not performed until 1848.
Now firmly resident in Paris Donizetti did not turn his back wholly on his native Italy and whilst completing La Favorite for the Paris Opéra he concluded an agreement with the Apollo Theatre Rome. The product was an opera to an existing libretto by Felice Romani. This had originally been written for Michele Carafa in 1817 and had later been used in Naples in 1834 by Carlo Coccia. The Papal censors were not happy with Romani’s ending with Adelia’s suicide. The management of the Apollo called in another librettist to provide a new act three with a happy ending. Interference from censors was a situation with which Donizetti was all too familiar in Naples. The composer found the new ending unsatisfactory but accepted it and the opera was staged on 11 February 1841. It was a stormy occasion as the impresario had contrived to sell more tickets than there were seats in the theatre! He was arrested and had to be bailed out by the leading lady, one Giuseppina Strepponi, later to be the wife of Verdi, the following day. The opera was given a further eight times that season before being performed in other Italian towns and travelling to Lisbon, Malta, Madrid and London. Despite this Donizetti considered the work a failure, blaming himself for accepting a libretto lacking in passion or verses capable of inspiring him.  It is only in recent years that revivals have reached the stage with productions in Bergamo (1997), at the Teatro Carlo Felice, Genoa (1998, recording available), and in a concert performance at Carnegie Hall, New York in 1999.
The plot of Adelia concerns her and Arnoldo her father, a captain in the Duke’s army but also a commoner. He resolves to kill the man seen climbing from his daughter’s window considering her virtue compromised. However, this man turns out to be Oliviero, a nobleman, whom Arnoldo as a mere commoner is unable to challenge. Knowing that any nobleman marrying a commoner will be beheaded, Arnoldo persuades the Duke to allow the marriage of Adelia and Oliviero. Adelia attempts to postpone the wedding, but her father insists on its continuing. The wedding takes place and in the revised last act the Duke spares Oliviero’s life by elevating Arnoldo to the nobility.
Whatever the circumstances of the genesis of Adelia it is a composition of Donizetti’s maturity, being the fifty-ninth of his sixty-six completed operas. He might not have been fully inspired by the libretto but the music has plenty of melody as well as dramatic situations in the first two acts in particular. The allegro vivace finale of act 1(CD 1 tr. 20) as performed here could easily pass as Risorgimento Verdi for rhythmic verve and vitality. Donizetti is less than inspired in the dénouement of the third act when the soldiery are summoned with the mission of helping in the execution of Oliviero who at that stage is then married to Adelia (CD 2 trs. 14-15). There are, however, inspiring moments in the father-daughter duets (CD 1 trs 13-14 and CD 2 trs. 9-10) and in the long love duet between Adelia and Oliviero (CD 2 trs 4-6). Like all bel canto operas of this period much depends on the quality of the singing. In this performance it is never less than adequate without rising to the best international standard. Although it is not made clear in the booklet, applause at the end of each act seems to indicate either a concert or staged performance, the overall acoustic balance pointing to the former. As Adelia, Michela Sburlati sings with good lyric tone and variety of colour, although her diction is variable. She phrases well in her larghetto Fui presaga (CD 1 tr. 11) but sounds rather tired by the final larghetto Ah le nostr’anime (CD 2 tr 19) and the climactic duet (tr. 21). Tiredness also afflicts the tonal lightness of David Sotgiu’s Oliviero. With an innately pleasing lyric tenor voice he lacks some capacity for elegance of phrase but he hits the money note at the end of the love duet (CD 2 tr. 6). With tiredness his tone audibly tightens and by the time we get to his act three aria Che fia de me! (CD 2 tr. 16) he has lost vocal colour and legato. Andrea Silvestrelli as Arnoldo, the implacable father, is cavernously voiced in his lower ranges but lacks flexibility in the higher tessitura. His is more a Sarastro bass than a flexible bel cantoist, but his contribution never flags and he characterises well.
I have not heard the alternative live recording from the Teatro Carlo Felice at Genoa, with Mariella Devia, Octavio Arevalo, Stefano Antonucci and Boris Martinovic conducted by John Neschling (BMG Ricordi). My American bel canto friend and expert Lew Schneider, who owns the recording, finds Devia below her best and the tenor not to his liking. He also questions aspects of the sound on the live recording. In this performance the recording is more than adequate with only the odd moment of questionable balance. Importantly there is no disturbance of the dramatic flow of the music by unwelcome applause after arias, even when it is deserved by the quality of singing. Applause is restricted to the end of each the act. Gustav Kuhn, a few slow tempos apart, finds both the drama and the lyricism inherent in Donizetti’s creation. The Haydn Choir are first rate.
Robert J Farr


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