Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)
L’Elisir d’Amore - Opera in two Acts [129:19]
Adina – Mariella Devia (soprano); Nemorino – Roberto Alagna (tenor); Belcore – Pietro Spagnoli (baritone); Dulcamara – Bruno Praticò (baritone); Giannetta – Francesca Provvisionato (mezzo)
Tallis Chamber Choir; English Chamber Orchestra/Marcello Viotti
rec. All Saints Church, Petersham, Richmond, October 1992
WARNER CLASSICS 2564 68147-8 [73:11 + 56:08]

It is perhaps fair to begin by saying that L’Elisir d’Amore is an opera that I invariably enjoy in live or recorded performance. There is something so very touching and believable about it that any shortcomings are noted but immediately discounted. You may therefore feel that whatever I say should be similarly discounted as the ramblings of a very partial witness. You may indeed go further and say that ‘witless’ would be the right word to describe me and my liking for the opera; indeed it would be hard to claim it as one of music’s great masterpieces. Surely however there is room for a work as lovable as this in music’s pantheon, and there should be room for a recording of it on any collector’s shelves.

You may well have a recording of it already. There are plenty available, including several that are probably superior overall to this. It has its own character and virtues nonetheless. Essentially these are the fresh singing of Mariella Devia and Roberto Alagna. The former in particular has a lightness of manner and a lack of the bossiness that can afflict some sopranos in this role. Her coloratura is clear and unfussy, and she does not attempt to make more of the music or the part than is there. Her singing of her final aria “Prendi per me sei libero” is especially lovely. Alagna sings much more lightly here than in his later versions, and almost convinces me that he has the voice and temperament for a role which really needs the kind of sunshine in the voice that, say, Pavarotti brought to it. Nonetheless he makes a suitably sympathetic character of Nemorino, and there are many distinguished tenors whose recordings fail to achieve this essential quality.

The two baritones both sing clearly and have the right facility in the faster passages, but Pietro Spagnoli makes a somewhat dull character of Belcore. More swagger is required. Bruno Praticò goes through all the usual comic routines as Dulcamara although again I feel some lack of the ripeness and individuality that the best interpreters bring to the role. The Tallis Chamber Choir sing very competently without ever sounding like an operatic chorus. The English Chamber Orchestra take obvious delight in the many delightful solos, especially for the woodwind. Viotti gives the singers adequate freedom even if some of the slow passages are slightly too slow and the fast ones too fast. The recording is clear though the acoustic sounds a long way from that of an opera house.

No text or translation is included and most of the usual theatre cuts are observed. Overall this is an enjoyable sounding performance which does have special appeal due to the appropriately young and fresh-sounding voices in the two principal roles.

John Sheppard

see also review by Robert J Farr

Enjoyable with the special appeal of two young and fresh-sounding principals