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Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)
Il Borgomastro di Saardam (1828)
The Tsar – Giorgio Caoduro (baritone)
Pietro Flimann – Juan Francisco Gatell (tenor)
Wambett – Andrea Concetti (bass)
Marietta – Irina Dubrovskaya (soprano)
Carlotta – Aya Wakizono (mezzo-soprano)
Leforte – Pietro Di Bianco (bass)
Ali Mahmed – Pasquale Scircoli (bass)
An Officer – Alessandro Ravasio (bass)
Chorus & Orchestra from Donizetti Opera/Roberto Rizzi Brignoli
rec. Festival Donizetti Opera 2017, Teatro Sociale, Bergamo, 24 November 2017
Libretto with English translations enclosed
DYNAMIC CDS7812.02 [60:31+41:21]

When Il Borgomastro di Saardam was premiered in Naples on 19 August 1927, Donizetti, though still only 30, had already a career as opera composer of almost ten years behind him and was very popular among the Neapolitans. In spite of that the new opera had a slow start, but soon it was loved by the audiences and it had more than thirty-five performances in toto. Though it failed in both Milan and Rome it was produced in Barcelona, Vienna, Berlin and Budapest during the next few years. After that it was forgotten until 1973, when it was staged in the town of its setting, today known as Zaandam, where it was also recorded with a cast including Philip Langridge and Renato Capecchi. The libretto, by Domenico Gilardoni, was based on a French play from 1818, Le bourgmestre de Sardam, ou Les deux Pierres. That play in its turn has its roots in a real historical event: Tsar Peter the Great of Russia, who during his long rein (1672 – 1725) made Russia into a great power, visited Zaandam incognito in August 1697 to study Dutch shipbuilding. This was part of long diplomatic mission in Western Europe, and his stay in Zaandam lasted only a few days. But soon a tradition developed that he was mixed up with one of the workers at the shipyard, a Russian defector also named Peter. This Peter, surnamed Flimann, is poor and deeply in love with Marietta, daughter of the mayor. He knows that the Tsar is there in disguise and mistakenly believes that Flimann is Peter the Great. The real Tsar is meanwhile forced to return home to deal with a revolt and has to reveal his identity. Before leaving he gives Flimann a high title, which makes it possible for him to marry Marietta. The story is better-known, at least in Northern Europe, from another opera, Albert Lortzing’s Zar und Zimmermann, first performed in Leipzig in 1837, ten years after Donizetti’s opera, with the composer himself in the role of the other Peter. Lortzing’s opera is still frequently played in German speaking countries.

The edition recorded here is not the original Naples version, which has not been able to reconstruct, but the Milan version of 1828, where the composer had made several changes, including amendments of Marietta’s role. And it is also the role that makes the deepest impression in the present performance, through the excellent singing of Siberia-born soprano Irina Dubrovskaya. It’s a singer I have experienced in the flesh a couple of times as a splendid Gilda in Rigoletto and her singing here has the same characteristics: beautiful tone, technical accomplishment – she is required to execute a lot of coloratura – and elegant phrasing. Her aria in the first act is as good a calling card as anything (CD 1 tr. 7-8). Her duet with Flimann in the beginning of the second act (CD 2 tr. 2-3) is another highlight, as is her duet with Wambett (the borgomastro) (CD 2 tr. 9-10). She also gets the last word when she in the finale expresses her gratitude to Tsar Peter that she at last could marry her beloved Flimann (CD 2 tr. 12). None of the other singers are quite on her level vocally speaking, but they have other qualities. Juan Francisco Gatell as Flimann has a flexible lyric tenor, more a character singer than a real bel canto singer, but he can also produce some beautiful caressing soft phrases and he is a good actor. Andrea Concetti as Wambett has a rather coarse bass-baritone but he is expressive and in the first act he has a buffo aria (CD 1 tr. 10) which of course has a generous helping of patter singing, which he rips off with obvious relish. The Tsar, sung by Giorgio Caoduro, is also an utterly expressive character and his showpiece comes in the second act: a recitative, a rather lyrical aria and a suitably joyful cabaletta (CD 2 tr. 5-7). Musically there are several things to admire, besides the numbers already mentioned. It opens with a quite ambitious overture with symphonic layout, nicely orchestrated, followed by a double chorus, where one recognises a melodic fragment that points forward to L’elisir d’amore. There is also quite a lot of ensemble scenes, through which the story fizzes along speedily and with no longueurs. The first act finale is truly rousing. Conductor Roberto Rizzi Brignoli’s lively conducting contributes greatly to the positive impression of the work and the performance.

The recording is well-balanced and catches also some stage noises and applause is retained. A valuable asset is the inclusion of complete libretto with English translation. Not perhaps one of Donizetti’s most important operas, but true lovers of his music will want it, and admirers of Irina Dubrovskaya should jump at the opportunity to have her in a scrumptious role like this.

Göran Forsling

Previous review (Blu-ray): Robert Farr

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