Ugo Conte di Parigi
was Donizetti’s thirty-sixth opera. Premiered in March 1832 it was the fifth he had written in the sixteen months since his big success with Anna Bolena
. The latter had opened the Carnival Season at the Carcano Theatre, Milan on 26 December 1830. That list of five included a non-commissioned work, Gianni di Parigi
that was not premiered until 1839. Ugo Conte di Parigi
was the fourth new production at La Scala that season, perhaps as the theatre sought to rescue its reputation. The previous Carcano season under the Duke of Litta had included Bellini’s La Sonnambula
as well as Donizetti’s opera.
Donizetti had bad luck with Ugo
in a number of respects. As well as being the last of the new works in the season, Romani’s libretto had been so savaged by the censors as to leave the plot in shreds. Romani disowned it leaving Donizetti to rescue something from the mess. Worse, it followed Bellini’s new opera, Norma,
that had opened the Carnival Season on the previous 26 December.
This, after a coolly received opening night had gone on to no fewer than thirty-nine rapturous repeats. The two operas had the same cast of principals including Giuditta Pasta, Giulia Grisi and Domenico Donzelli. Despite the starry cast Ugo
was a failure and was taken off after a mere handful of performances. It did receive productions in other Italian cities and in Lisbon over the next few years, but thereafter it died until recorded by Opera Rara in 1977, the first of their many recordings of Donizetti operas.
The plot concerns Princess Bianca of Aquitaine who is betrothed to the young king of France, Louis V. She in fact loves Ugo, Count of Paris who is regent until Louis comes of age. Bianca tells her sister, Adelia, that she wants to call off the marriage and return to her sick mother. The young king suspects a relationship between Ugo and Bianca and imprisons Ugo. In fact Ugo is in love with Adelia. When Bianca discovers this, broken-hearted, she poisons herself.
Composed immediately before Donizetti’s great buffa success, L’Elisir d’Amore
, there is some rich melodic music in the score. Some of it was new and some pillaged from earlier works as was common practice.
On the rostrum Antonino Fogliani is competent as is the chorus who have much to do. As Bianca, Doina Dimitriu sings with light soprano tone and has adequate coloratura in her entrance aria and a reasonable trill (CD1. Trs. 6-8). However, she is not always steady but improves as the opera proceeds and gives an excellent performance in the finale (CD2. Trs.14-15). Carmen Giannattasia as Bianca’s sister Adelia has a fuller-toned and warmer voice and gives a clear indication of her vocal strengths (CD1. Trs 9-11 and 17-18). Her merits have been recognised in recordings for Opera Rara in the bel canto
repertoire. These include Rossini’s Ermione
), Bellini’s Il Pirata
) and Donizetti’s Caterina Cornaro
). Like others in this cast she is a graduate of La Scala’s academy (1999-2002) and has since made appearances at the world’s leading opera houses.
Of the male characters, that of Ugo is sung with Italianate tonal squilla
and good diction by Japanese tenor Yasuharu (Yasu) Nakajima, also a graduate of the Scala Academy (CD1. Trs 17-18). Another academician is Bulgarian Dejan Vatchkov as Folco. He is no Christoff or Ghiaurov and has a somewhat occluded tone at times. However, his diction is good and range secure. Less satisfactory is Sim Tokyurek in the trousers role of Luigi. She is a mezzo not a male alto as the booklet cast mistakenly states.
The slim booklet includes a track-list and some inaccurate background information such as that Bellini’sI Capuletti e i Montecchi
was premiered at Venice’s La Fenice the same evening as Donizetti’s Anna Bolena
at Milan’s Carcano Theatre. This kind of poor sleeve information, and the lack of a libretto, compares very unfavourably with that provided by Opera Rara, albeit at a significantly higher price.
Robert J Farr