One of the finest I have heard
A most joy-inducing
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A Lohengrin to
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Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797 – 1848) Rosmonda d’Inghilterra (1834)
Rosmonda – Jessica Pratt (soprano)
Leonora – Eva Mei (soprano)
Enrico – Dario Schmunck (tenor)
Clifford – Nicola Ulivieri (bass)
Arturo – Raffaella Lupinacci (mezzo-soprano)
Orchestra and Chorus Donizetti Opera/Sebastiano Rolli
rec. Teatro Donizetti di Bergamo, 2016
Complete Italian/English libretto available online
World Premiere Recording of the new revision of the Donizetti Foundation DYNAMIC CDS7757.02 [2 CDs: 144:10]
English queens and kings and their escapades have given incitement to many literary works, not least opera librettos, and Donizetti consumed quite a few of these. Anna Bolena, Roberto Devereux and Maria Stuarda are well-known and to them can also be added Rosmonda d’Inghilterra. The royalties here are King Henry II (1133 – 1189) (Enrico) and his Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122 – 1204) (Leonora). The king has a mistress hidden in a tower. Rosmonda knows him only as Edegardo, but Leonora suspects that Enrico is betraying her and since his page, Arturo, is in love with Rosmonda, Leonora sees an opportunity to reveal her rival.
Clifford, Rosmonda’s father, who also is the king’s counsellor, has returned to England from France, has heard rumour about the secret mistress and tries to advice the king from creating a scandal by divorcing Leonora, but he is stubborn. Clifford finds his way to the tower and finds, to his horror, that it is his daughter. Clifford tells her the truth of her lover and Rosmonda faints. The king arrives and is determined to divorce Leonora, but Rosmonda, who has come to, refuses to accept a marriage with the unfaithful king. Then Leonora comes and now she has proof that her husband has a lover. She wants to take revenge.
In the second act there is a row between the king and the queen. The latter accuses her of having married him only to reign on England’s throne. They separate. Arturo has been promised by the queen to be able to marry Rosmonda if he shows her the secret passage to Rosmonda. Clifford comes and tells Rosmonda that she has to leave England with Arturo. When in Aquitaine they can marry. The king makes a last attempt to convince Rosmonda to marry him but she refuses again.
In the last scene she is waiting for Clifford and Arturo. Instead the queen arrives, jealous and revengeful, and kills Rosmonda. The king, Clifford and Arturo arrive too late. Rosmonda is already dead.
There seems to be more than a grain of historical truth in this story, but the possible documentation is not contemporary with the event. There are however lots of ingredients for an opera, and Donizetti has dressed the story in suitably colourful music and there is a lot of brilliant opportunities for the main characters to shine. The overture is rather jolly, which jars with the horror that is to come, but since the opening of the opera is a scene where the people are hailing the king when he comes back from a successful war in Ireland, it seems plausible anyway.
The most famous music here is Rosmonda’s long scene in the first act (CD 1 tr. 10 – 12) which frequently was substituted for Regnava nel silenzio in Lucia di Lammermoor. It is a good scene, which Diana Damrau recorded brilliantly a couple of years ago (review, review) and here Jessica Pratt certainly has all the technical skill required, even though she is slightly uneven. She is even better in the second act, in particular in the long scene with Enrico (CD 2 tr. 9 – 14). Eva Mei, with a long career behind her, is still in marvellous shape. Listen to Leonora’s scene with Enrico in the second act (CD 2 tr. 2 – 5). This is great singing indeed. It’s a pity that Dario Schmunck’s Enrico here and elsewhere is rather undernourished and often sadly tense. Raffaella Lupinacci in the trouser role as Arturo is also great. Io non ti posso offrir (CD 2 tr. 7) is a really good aria and this is perhaps the best singing of the evening. Nicola Ulivieri sports a solid sonorous bass as Clifford, and whenever he appears he is a pillar of strength.
The live recording is good, the orchestra play well and the chorus, who have quite a lot to do, is splendid. The one near the end (CD 2 tr. 15) for male voices is one of the best.
The opera ends very abruptly. Nobody seems to have expected the curtain to fall then and there is a looong silence before there is some hesitant clapping. That apart this a very well-sung performance with lots of wonderful music and except for a rather mediocre Enrico it should appeal to all Donizetti lovers.
Just a final comment: When I had finished this review I read Michael Cookson’s review of the Blu-ray video version. We agreed very much in our evaluation of the music and the singing but he had misgivings about direction and sets. So it seems the audio version is a safer bet.