Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)
Linda di Chamounix - Melodramma semiseria in three acts (1842)
Linda, a young Savoyard girl, - Eglise Gutiérrez (soprano); Carlo, Visconte di Sirval, a young nobleman, masquerading as a painter - Stephen Costello (tenor); Marquis of Boisfleury, an old roué with intentions towards Linda - Alessandro Corbelli (buffo); Antonio, Linda’s father - Ludovic Tezier (bass-baritone); Pierotto, an orphan musician - Marianna Pizzolato (mezzo); The Prefect, Bálint Szabó (bass); Maddalena, Linda’s mother - Elisabeth Sikora (soprano)
Orchestra and Chorus of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London/Sir Mark Elder
rec. live, 7 and 14 September 2009, Concert performances of the opera given at Covent Garden
Performed in the Critical Edition edited by Gabrielle Dotto
OPERA RARA ORC 43 [3 CDs: 66.55 + 55.14 + 43.24] 

This work comes in at around the sixty-second of what The New Grove Masters of Italian Opera (Macmillan, 1983) lists as sixty-six operas by Donizetti. Others give the total at around seventy. Sorry not to be more exact, but it depends how one classifies the re-writes. Is Buondelmonte a new opera rather than a modification of Maria Stuarda, the circumstances of which I explain in the latest of my reviews of the latter opera. (See review). Then there is the matter of revisions. This is important in respect of the differences in this performance and that on the Arts label which contains more than eleven minutes more music (see review). The difference is accounted for by the additions Donizetti made for the Paris production in 1843 to accommodate the coloratura soprano Fanny Tacchinardi Persiani, the creator of the eponymous Lucia di Lammermoor in Naples in 1835. The matter of what is included in this recording from the Paris additions is dealt with in Jeremy Commons’ detailed essay with credit to Gabrielle Dotto, editor of the new Critical Edition. One important addition from the Paris revisions that is included, from what might be considered the original text presented at the Vienna Kärntnertor on 19 May 1842, is the most famous tune from the work, the cabaletta O luce di quest’anima to Linda’s entrance aria (CD 1 tr.6). Critical Editions are not meant to recreate the text and performance of the first night but, to quote Gossett, (Divas and Scholars, Chicago, 2006, pp.134 et seq) himself editor of many Rossini and Verdi Critical Editions, the purpose “is to make available the best texts that modern scholarship, musicianship and editorial technique can produce.” The consequence of the Dotto Critical Edition is to breathe new life into a Donizetti opera that, perhaps because of its rather facile story - a girl dallying in a kept situation whilst intent on safeguarding her virginity - is naïve in the extreme and hardly plausible in the present day. That is not to mention the French play from which the opera derives and which takes a somewhat more harsh and realistic view of the movement of young Savoyards to Paris to earn money. The performance here, derived from a concert, can well be seen as the most appropriate context. It was in this form that Mark Elder also conducted the work in London in 1998.
Along with this recording, Dotto’s work seems to have given rise to a clutch of performances including a contemporaneous one in Bergamo, which may yet, as others have done from that source, appear on DVD; one can but hope.
The 1843 Paris performances, with Persiani in the title role, might well have differed in many respects from the premiere in Vienna with Eugenia Tadolini taking the part. The latter sang in many of Verdi’s early period works and created the name role in his Alzira premiered at the San Carlo in 1845 (Budden, The Operas of Verdi, Vol. 1, pp.226 et seq). It would seem reasonable to suggest that Tadolini’s voice had more colour and character than that of Persiani. With its mad scene and fraught emotional duets in act two, Linda di Chamounix is an ideal opera for a lyric coloratura soprano capable of a wide range of expression.
In their usual meticulous manner Opera Rara has sought out a singer who can encompass the lightness and flexibility of Persiani alongside the more characterful Tadolini. They have come up with the young Cuban-American soprano, Eglise Gutiérrez, who is new to me, as have been many other singers on this label. She has an appealing lightness and flexibility allied to good legato, variety of tone and good expression. If she sounds a little tentative, even inhibited from time to time, she is not alone. I suspect the circumstances of the concert performance were not conducive to full dramatic conviction despite Elder’s pacing and view of the score. If the formidable and more experienced Mariella Devia realises more of the demands on the Arts issue, Miss Gutiérrez’s performance is commendable for a young singer and promises a considerable future career, especially in this repertoire.
Another performer new to me is the tenor Stephen Costello as Carlo. He is the supposed impecunious painter, in reality Visconte di Sirval, in whose plush apartment Linda lives in Paris. She is naïve to the extent of not seeming to cotton on as to her perceived state of a kept woman, in what might be termed Violetta mode. This makes her propositioning by the Marquis of Boisfleury, and the reaction of her father, not too difficult to comprehend. Costello sings with a welcome clear open ring to his tone making his ardent declarations in his act two aria (CD 2 tr.3) eminently believable. His characterisation is a little vague at times whilst a lack of elegance in his phrasing might inhibit his promising future, although in recent months I have seen his name carded at some distinguished operatic addresses.
Characterisation is no problem for Alessandro Corbelli, the seemingly veteran buffa, as the Marquis of Boisfleury, and whose earlier behaviour is somewhat implausibly forgiven in the finale (CD 3 tr.7). There are, however, dry patches in his tone; not a problem with Ludovic Tezier as Antonio, Linda’s father nor Bálint Szabó as The Prefect. All three are superior to their counterparts in the Arts label performance. If I cannot say the same about Marianna Pizzolato as Linda’s friend and supporter, the young hurdy-gurdy player, Pierotto, it is only because of the competition from Sonia Ganassi. Sufficient compliment to say that I would be happy to hear either in the theatre and that in this performance Miss Pizzolato is a tower of strength in both the quality of her singing and also in her characterisation. Her wide palette of colour is well in evidence.
In the Opera Rara recording of Roberto de Devereux (see review) I was not happy about the acoustic in the Royal Opera House and also the intrusions of applause. I found the sound here had more presence, especially with the volume turned a little louder than usual, and the only intrusions for applause are at the end.
I have only briefly touched on Elder’s contribution in this recording taken from two concert performances that opened the Royal Opera House season in 2009. Although this lacks something of the vitality and verve of a staged live performance, the absence of stage movement noise and fade are benefits. Elder’s overall feel for this music, and wide experience of staged productions, are in evidence in his support for the singers and the challenges they face in the bel canto repertoire. Gabrielle Bellini for Arts is more lyrical than Elder who manages the limitations of a concert performance well to build tension and inflect the music with more dramatic pulse.
On this Opera Rara issue each of the three acts is contained on one disc. The set comes with full libretto and translation in English as well as a synopsis in French and German alongside the extensive essay by Jeremy Commons already referred to.
Postscript 1. The success of Linda di Chamounix in Vienna led Donizetti to be commissioned to write a further opera for the Kärntnertor theatre. This became Maria di Rohan which waspremiered in June 1843. Donizetti was showered with honours and appointed Imperial Court Composer. At last it seemed as though his aspiration to follow Rossini in getting away, at least in part, from the compositional treadmill was in sight. But Donizetti had drawn too many short straws in life’s lottery with the death of his children and his wife at the time of the composition of Roberto Devereux. Any thoughts of an easier life were to be short-lived as, during the composition of his final opera, Dom Sébastien, he was reported to have exhibited erratic behaviour and flown into uncontrollable rages. Premiered in Paris in November 1843 it was only modestly received by the Parisian audience. A revised edition had a better reception in Vienna the following year. By then Donizetti’s health was in serious decline and far from enjoying the fruits of his more recent successes he became increasingly ill from the effects of tertiary syphilis, known as general paralysis of the insane. He became paralysed with the consequent cerebra-spinal degeneration and was placed in an institution. For the last 17 months of his life he was paralysed and finally comatose. He died at the age of only fifty-one.
Postscript 2. Opera Rara have already recorded Donizetti’s second Vienna opera, Maria di Rohan, which will be issued in November 2011. Recorded in November 2009, it features, among others, soprano Krassimira Stoyanova in the title role, José Bros and Christopher Purves. Sir Mark Elder conducts the Geoffrey Mitchell Choir and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Like this recording, Maria di Rohan has been made with the financial support of the Sir Peter Moores Foundation. However, it will be the last to feature that support which has enabled Opera Rara to record, and maintain in the catalogue, an unequalled number of the composer’s operas; around eighteen I believe. They have the composer’s last staged opera, Caterina Cornaro scheduled for recording in the autumn of 2011. This will feature Carmen Giannattasio in the title role. She has already featured in recordings of Parasina (see review) and Rossini’s La Donna del Lago (see review) and Ermione (see review) for Opera Rara. 
In restructuring, to secure financial support, Sir Mark Elder has become Artistic Director. Philanthropist Ian Rosenblatt has been appointed Chairman. The website gives details of Opera Rara and how to subscribe and support the continuance of their efforts.
Robert J Farr
Performed in the new Critical Edition by Gabrielle Dotto, this is another quality recording of a Donizetti opera complemented by the unsurpassed Opera Rara presentation.