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Stella di Napoli - Bel Canto Opera Arias
Giovanni PACINI (1796-1867)
1. Ove t’aggiri, o barbaro from opera Stella di Napoli (1845) [4:29]
Vincenzo BELLINI (1801-1835)
2. Dopo l’oscuro nembo from opera Adelson e Salvini (second version, 1828/29) [6:25]
Michele CARAFA (1787-1872)
3. L’amica ancor non torna… Oh, di sorte crudel from opera Le nozze di Lammermoor (1829) [9:20]
Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
4. Riedi al soglio from opera Zelmira (1822) [8:13]
Saverio MERCADANTE (1795-1870)
5. Se fino al cielo ascendere from opera La vestale (1840) [4:24]
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)
6. Par che mi dica ancora from opera Elisabetta al castello di Kenilworth (1829) [7:33]
Vincenzo BELLINI (1801-1835)
7. Tu sola, o mia Giuietta... Deh! tu, bell’anima from opera I Capuleti e i Montecchi (1830) [4:08]
Carlo VALENTINI (1790-1853)
8. Lasciami... Se il mar sommesso mormora from opera Il sonnambulo (1834; Naples 1845) [5:10]
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)
9. Io vi rivero alfin... Deh! Tu di un’umile preghiera from opera Maria Stuarda (1835)
[8:04]
Giovanni PACINI (1796-1867)
10. Gran scena finale: Flutto che muggi... Teco dall’are pronube... L’ama ognor qual io l’amai from opera Saffo (1840) [14:27]
Joyce DiDonato (mezzo)
Rémi Mathieu (tenor) (trs. 4, 10); Héloise Mas (mezzo) (trs. 1, 8, 10); Nabil Suliman (baritone) (trs. 4, 10)
Orchestre et Chœurs de l'Opéra de Lyon/Riccardo Minasi
Jean-Michel Bertelli (clarinet) (tr. 3); Morgane Fauchois (glockenspiel) (tr. 6)
rec. 17-24 October 2013, Opéra de Lyon, France
Full Italian texts provided with English, French and German translations
ERATO 2564 636562 [72:15]

With this excellent new release Joyce DiDonato tackles the immense vocal challenges presented by this collection of rare Neapolitan bel canto opera arias. In this the disc makes a refreshing change from the vast majority of CDs given over to the same old works. Here instead we delve deep into the archives selecting neglected Neapolitan delights around half of which are, I suspect, virtually never heard. This is borne out by the note in the accompanying booklet stating three of the arias (tracks 1, 3, 8) are being given world première recordings. All ten selected works are taken from a narrow twenty-three year period. Not surprisingly, stylistically and texturally, they inhabit a very similar sound-world. Those looking for variety of style and contrast of mood will have to look elsewhere.

The prolific Sicilian composer Giovanni Pacini is represented by two arias both from operas of his mature years. First the cabaletta Ove t’aggiri, o barbaro from the opera Stella di Napoli from which the release takes its name. Full of melody and drama the male chorus adds to the exhilaration. DiDonato is in complete control and is well up to the challenging and prolonged coloratura demands. The second is the final track, the lengthy Gran scena finale: Flutto che muggi ... Teco dall’are pronube ... L’ama ognor qual io l’amai taken from Saffo. It’s a memorable closing scene with a roller-coaster of emotions and at times is very moving. I was struck by some of the instrumentation notably the horns early on and the prominent harp part. The conclusion is highly dramatic and makes a real impact. Also Sicilian-born from the same city of Catania but much better known is Vincenzo Bellini. He is given a pair of arias here. The first Dopo l’oscuro nembo from his early opera Adelson e Salvini was a final student project. A lovely flute solo adds a sense of mystery. As the tormented heroine Nelly, a soprano role, DiDonato revels in the long melodic lines - here compassion is steeped in melancholy. The second aria Deh! tu, bell’anima can be found in Bellini’s middle-period I Capuleti e i Montecchi. In the ‘trouser role’ of Romeo, DiDonato conveys a moving, yearning and aching tenderness amid all that swaying and melodic writing.

Gaetano Donizetti from Bergamo was highly productive in the field of opera and is represented by two arias one from Elisabetta al castello di Kenilworth and the other from Maria Stuarda both from his middle period. The first, Par che mi dica ancora from Elisabetta al castello di Kenilworth opens with a part for glass harmonica, here played on the glockenspiel. As well as significant coloratura demands, DiDonato in the part of Amelia conjures a feeling of loneliness tinged with fear. The music quickens and ends with an orchestral and choral outburst of real splendour. Next comes Deh! Tu di un’umile preghiera, famously known as Maria’s prayer, from Maria Stuarda. Incidentally DiDonato has recently received tremendous accolades for her performance as Mary Queen of Scots in an otherwise well sung but disappointing production of Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda at the Royal Opera House, London. I am struck by the aching sense of longing that DiDonato generates and her breath control for holding a note is astonishing. Noticeable at 3:50 is the harp accompaniment followed later by the appearance of the mixed chorus, all to great effect. A true highlight is the exhilaration engendered by the combined forces at the dramatic ending of the piece.

The most famous figure here is Rossini - prolific throughout his twenty or so years of creativity. Here the Pesaro-born Rossini has the aria Riedi al soglio from Zelmira. This dates from 1822 and fell during a period of astonishingly high quality composing activity. This is an outstanding aria with a dramatic opening and ending in a highly percussive manner. The assured DiDonato surmounts the challenges of the role of Zelmira, the Princess of Lesbos, a role that Rossini created for the renowned Spanish opera singer Isabella Colbran. I enjoyed the choral parts followed by the contributions of both tenor Rémi Mathieu as Zelmira’s husband, Ilo the Price of Troy, and baritone Nabil Suliman as her father Polidoro King of Lesbos.

Finally there is an attractive aria each from three rarely heard composers: Michele Carafa, Saverio Mercadante and Carlo Valentini. Neapolitan Michele Carafa is a new name to me. Carafa has the aria L’amica ancor non torna … Oh, di sorte crudel from his Le nozze di Lammermoor, based on the same material as Donizetti’s later and highly successful Lucia di Lammermoor. DiDonato is affecting in her portrayal of Lucia’s emotional pain. Again I was struck by her superb breath control and sustained melodic lines. Also of note here are the lovely clarinet solos. Saverio Mercadante born in Altamura, Southern Italy is a composer that I know more by reputation than by actual performances. Prolific in opera, Mercadante is represented by Se fino al cielo ascendere from La vestale, a tragedia lirica from his full maturity. There is a noticeably brooding and rather shadowy quality to Mercadante’s music. In the role of Giunia, DiDonato exhibits a lovely purity of voice tinged with a suitably dark-edged tone. Another new name to me is Carlo Valentini a native of Lucca in Tuscany. Valentini’s aria Se il mar sommesso mormora is taken from Il sonnambulo written to a Felice Romani text. In a powerful portrayal of the heroine Adele, DiDonato gives a strong sense of emotional struggle with mezzo-soprano Héloise Mas providing fine support as Sofia. Throughout, the gentle swaying rhythm provides a memorable backdrop to their dialogue.

Supreme technical control, fluid delivery and creamy texture mark out DiDonato as one of the leading singers around today. Her voice sounds in superb condition and a striking acting ability that makes every word believable. She remains a force to be reckoned with.

No problems at all with the sound quality in sessions pleasingly recorded in 2013 at the Opéra de Lyon. Thankfully I can report that full texts are provided with English translations. This is an extremely exhilarating and rewarding collection of rarely encountered works.

Michael Cookson