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Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)
Rosmonda D’Inghilterra, Melodramma serio in due atti (1834)
First performed at the Teatro della Pergola, Florence, on February 27th 1834
Enrico II, King of England, - Darío Schmunck (ten); Leonora di Guienna, wife of Enrico II, - Eva Mei (sop); Rosmonda, Enrico's mistress and daughter of Clifford - Jessica Pratt (sop); Gualtiero Clifford, former tutor of the king - Nicola Ulivieri (bass); Arturo, Enrico’s page - Raffaela Lupinacci (mezzo)
Orchestra and Chorus Donizetti Opera/Sebastiano Rolli
Director - Paola Rota
Set and Light Designer, Nicolas Bovey
Costume Designer, Massimo Cantini Parrini
Video Director, Machio Ricchetti
rec. Teatro Donizetti di Bergamo, November 2016
Video Format. Aspect ratio 16:9. Colour NTSC. Audio Format, Dolby Digital PCM 2.0
Subtitles. Italian (original language), English, French, German, Japanese, Korean
Notes in Italian and English
Performed in a new edition by Alberto Sonzogni for the Donizetti Foundation based on the autograph and primary sources
DYNAMIC 37757 DVD [151 mins]

Rosmonda is the 43rd title in the Donizetti operatic oeuvre. Romani’s libretto was an adaptation of his earlier writing for Carlo Coccia, whose 1829 opera of the same name had not been a success. The action takes place in England in the second half of the 12th century. Enrico, Henry II of England, has returned from the wars to the comforts of his mistress Rosmonda Clifford, who knows him only by his name. Her father informs her of her lover’s true identity. Rosmonda is horrified, but the King promises to make her Queen. However, Leonora, his jealous wife, kills her.

Rosmonda was premiered in Florence in 1834 during a very creative period of Donizetti’s compositional life. It followed a mere two months after Lucrezia Borgia, ten months before Maria Stuarda and eighteen months before Lucia di Lamermoor. It was not a success at its premiere. The work may not have the melodic invention of Lucia, which can justifiably claim to be the first great Italian Romantic opera, but its combination of solos and duets is underpinned by a high quality of musical invention by the composer. Whilst both William Ashbrook and Julian Budden pass Rosmonda by with only a mention in their chapter in The New Grove Masters of Italian Opera, Charles Osborne in his The Bel Canto Operas is more detailed, if not very complimentary. Whilst finding virtue in Rosmonda’s act 2 aria and cabaletta (DVD 2. Chs.11-12), and the dramatic finale (DVD 2 Chs. 20-23), he reckons the finest number in the whole score is her Torna, ah, torna, a caro ogetto (DVD 1 Ch. 13). Fanny Tacchinardi-Persiani, the 21-year-old creator of the role of Rosmonda, could be thought of as agreeing as she, later the creator of Lucia, subsequently substituted the aria, albeit with revised words, for Regnave nel silenzo in the 1837 revival of Lucia. Donizetti himself appropriated the aria for the 1839 revision of Lucia for Paris, where it was presented, in French, as Lucie di Lamermoor.

Opera Rara rectified the neglect of the work on record in a performance recorded at Henry Wood Hall, London, in July 1994 as a vehicle for Renée Fleming (see review), who went on to sign a contract with Decca. This performance from the Bergamo Festival, held in the town in Lombardy, Italy, where the composer was born, is the first performance on film. It followed earlier concert performances with the same cast, except for the tenor lead, given in the Opera di Firenze (Florence), shortly before the Bergamo Festival. This simplistic rather dark stage set by Nicolas Bovey is with period costumes, except when the chorus appears to be carrying umbrellas in their opening (DVD 1 Ch.2). Director Paola Rota keeps matters very simple and uncluttered. I failed to understand the dark make up around the eyes of the king and queen and gold for Rosomonda, unless it was a substitute for masks, although the action did not justify that, albeit there is within the story hidden realities in that Rosmonda does not appreciate that her lover is the king.

Of the singing Jessica Pratt is outstanding, as we have come to expect from her Pesaro performances of Rossini bel canto operas at that venue, such as Zenobia in Aureliano in Palmira (see review) or as Adelaide in Adelaide di Borgogna in Bologna (see review). I was fortunate to hear her in the eponymous role of Armida at the British premiere of the composer’s 1817 opera at Garsingtom Manor in 2010, shortly after the American premiere at the Met featuring Renée Fleming in the title role (see review). Born in the UK in June 1979, she was subsequently brought up in Australia. She has the virtue of stage good diction presence, and ability to create a meaningful character, not merely exhibit excellent qualities of vocal display. She has already made her debut at leading theatres including La Scala, Covent Garden, Liceu in Barcelona and at The New York Met, where she will sing Lucia on 12th September 2018 for the 40th year commemoration of the death of Maria Callas. Whilst she is the undeniable star of this performance as singer and actress, she is not alone in giving a formidable interpretation, being matched by Eva Mei, now in dramatic voice as Enrico’s wife, and who stabs and kills Rosmonda. As Rosmonda’s father Gualtiero Clifford, former tutor of the king, Nicola Ulivieri, is vocally sonorous and creates a meaningful and integrated character. Arturo, Enrico’s page, who loves Rosmonda, a travesti role sung by Raffaela Lupinacci, a new voice to me, likewise gives a rounded vocal performance of no little distinction; hers is a name I shall look out for. Regrettably, Darío Schmunck as Enrico is not of equal quality, as a singer, as his colleagues. Far too often his tone is parched and unappealing, albeit his acting has sincerity. The chorus is outstanding and plays its part in creating a worthy all round performance within the limited staging.

Robert J Farr

Previous review (Blu-ray): Michael Cookson



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