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Vincenzo BELLINI (1801-1835)
Adelson e Salvini, opera in 3 acts (1825)
Daniela Barcellona (Nelly),
Simone Alberghini (Lord Adelson),
Enea Scala (Salvini),
Maurizio Muraro (Bonifacio),
Rodion Pogossov (Colonel Struley),
David Soar (Geronio),
Kathryn Rudge (Fanny),
Leah-Marian Jones (Madama Rivers),
Opera Rara Chorus (chorus director: Eamonn Dougan)
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Daniele Rustioni
rec. May 2016, BBC Maida Vale Studios, London
Full Italian text with English translation in booklet
OPERA RARA ORC56 [73.37 + 79.52]

Following the success of Leoncavallo’s opera ZazÓ, its first venture into the verismo tradition, Opera Rara returns to Vincenzo Bellini for his first full scale opera Adelson e Salvini the label’s third opera recording by the Italian composer.

From his student days in Naples, Bellini revered Rossini, then at the height of his powers and a celebrated figure in opera. When Bellini saw Semiramide performed at the Teatro San Carlo it made a considerable impression on the young teenager. It therefore comes as no surprise that for his graduation piece Bellini’s opera semiseria in three acts Adelson e Salvini was strongly influenced by Rossini. For his first opera Bellini chose a libretto by Andrea Leone Tottola who had prepared librettos for Donizetti and Rossini. Set in seventeenth century Ireland at Lord Adelson’s castle, Tottola’s libretto is based on a novella Adelson et Salvini: Anecdote anglaise from a collection by Franšois-Thomas-Marie de Baculard d’Arnaud. The first performances of Adelson e Salvini were given by an all-male cast of fellow students at the Real Collegio di Musica di San Sebastian, Naples in 1825. It was a hit and extra performances were arranged at the Collegio leading to an opera commission from Teatro San Carlo.

With thoughts of reviving Adelson e Salvini Bellini undertook various revisions and additions to the score that he had left unfinished. For an intended performance at the Teatro del Fondo, Naples which never took place, Bellini authorised his friend Francesco Florimo to make amendments leading to a two act version of the score. In 1985 a version of the opera was staged at the Teatro Massimo Bellini in Catania which was the opera’s first professional performance. In 2001 when the original orchestral parts were unearthed in Milan this meant the full score could finally be reconstructed and heard as the composer intended at its first performance. For this release conductor Daniele Rustioni has recorded a reconstructed original three-act version of Adelson e Salvini, based on a new critical version edition published by Ricordi. After the opera’s conclusion three significant set-pieces taken from the second version are also included: Nelly’s romance, a duet between Salvini and Bonifacio, and Struley’s aria with chorus. Rustioni explains that the score, with its spoken dialogue is rather like an “Italian singspiel” and the Neapolitan dialect used by the amusing character Bonifacio has been retained. Unless one is following the opera with the libretto in hand, hearing the considerable Italian dialogue intrudes, really, diminishing the enjoyment.

Throughout the recording there is a real sense of engagement from all the performers who have clearly bought into this latest Opera Rara project. At times the atmosphere generated at BBC Maida Vale Studios feels very intense, communicating a palpable sense of a live performance. Daniela Barcellona, the best-known soloist here, is in impressive form in the role of Nelly. Raising the temperature the dignified Italian mezzo-soprano communicates penetratingly rich and commanding expression, with her vocal fluidity notable in the affecting romanza ‘Dopo l’oscura nembo’, which is certainly the finest aria in the work. Barcellona has a stunning voice but sadly this role provides only limited opportunity to hear her. Thoroughly recommendable is Barcellona in the trouser role of Malcolm in Paul Curran’s 2015 New York Met production of Rossini’s dramatic two act opera La Donna del Lago (The Lady of the Lake) filmed live on Erato Blu-ray (review). Completely at home here as Lord Adelson, is the experienced Italian baritone Simone Alberghini. Mature-sounding with ideal weight, his voice is characterful yet graceful in ‘Obliarti! Abbandonarti!… Ah, mio caro!’ which is, in truth, a rather routine aria. Italian tenor Enea Scala throws himself passionately into the role of lovelorn Salvini, the Neapolitan painter. Clear, lithe and strongly projected in ‘Si cadro… ma estinto ancora’, Scala excels in meeting the significant demands of the wide tenor range. The highest notes feel a touch pinched but there’s nothing to worry about too much. Salvini’s act one duet with Bonifacio ‘Speranza seduttrice’ is worthy of admiration too.

Salvini’s servant Bonifacio is taken by Maurizio Muraro, the Italian bass. Although the buffo aria ‘Taci, attendi, e allor vedrai’ is a touch wearying Muraro does all he can, singing with proficiency, focus and satisfying expression. Colonel Struley is sung by Russian baritone Rodion Pogossov. The nobleman’s aria ‘Geronio ancor non viene… Tu provo un palpito per tal dimora’ is agreeably delivered by Pogossov with lovely warmth, blend and balance. In the role of Fanny, Kathryn Rudge, an English mezzo-soprano sings her aria ‘Immagine gradita’ (from early in act one) with proficient control, displaying her dark-tinged timbre. In the minor roles bass David Soar, sonorous and expressive, sings Geronio most effectively and mezzo-soprano Leah-Marian Jones as housekeeper Madama Rivers does all that is asked of her. With clarity and impressive unity the Opera Rara Chorus sings characterfully, without undue heaviness. Playing with commitment, the BBC Symphony Orchestra responds splendidly to Daniele Rustioni’s direction, which is assured and high on vitality. Recorded at BBC Maida Vale Studios in London the sound team excel providing first class sound, being especially clear and with satisfying balance. Complete Italian text with an English translation is contained in the lavishly produced booklet together with a pair of helpful essays and detailed synopsis.

With this recording Opera Rara continues its mission to promote excellent recordings of forgotten operas, mainly bel canto repertoire of the ninetieth century. Daniele Rustioni’s well prepared cast excels and the advantage of having native Italian speakers in the principal roles is very evident. Maybe Opera Rara could turn its attention away briefly from its core Italian repertoire to the forgotten French operas of Fromental HalÚvy, perhaps his La Reine de Chypre, La magicienne or Charles VI?

Michael Cookson



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