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Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797–1848)
Il Borgomastro di Saardam (The Mayor of Saardam). Melodrama giocoso (opera buffa) in two acts. 1828 Milan Edition
Tsar Pietro - Giorgio Caoduro (baritone); Pietro Flimann - Juan Francisco Gatell (tenor); Wambett, Il Borgamastro - Andrea Concetti (bass); Marietta - Irina Dubrovskaya (soprano); Carlotta - Aya Wakizono (mezzo); Leforte - Pietro Di Bianco (baritone); Alì Mahmed - Pasquale Scircoli (tenor)
Orchestra Donizetti Opera & Coro Donizetti Opera/Roberto Rizzi Brignoli
rec. live, 24 November 2017, Teatro Sociale di Bergamo, Donizetti Festival
Director: David Ferrario
Set designer: Francesca Bocca
Costumes: Giada Masi
Lighting Designer: Alessandro Andreoli.
Video Director: Matteo Richettti
Sound format, PCM Stereo 2.0/DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Picture format 16-9. 1080i60 – BD 50 – 57812
Booklet notes in Italian and English. Subtitles, Italian (original language), English, French and German
DYNAMIC Blu-ray 57812 [108 mins]

Il Borgomastro di Saardam is listed as Donizetti’s eighteenth opera by Charles Osborne in his seminal The Bel Canto Operas (Methuen 1994. p 357 et seq), whilst a list originating later from the Donizetti Society puts the number a little higher, but includes the likes of Un follia for example, which is lost. Il Borgomastro di Saardam was one of three operatic works the composer presented at the Royal Theatres of Naples in 1827. The story concerns the incognito visit of the formidable Tsar of all the Russias, Peter Romanov, known as Peter the Great, to the Netherlands, to learn at first hand the skills and techniques of the Dutch shipbuilding and wind powered industries. This historically ascertained fact prompted a series of picturesque legends, which, after his death, inspired several plays and operatic librettos, albeit they tended to romanticize facts. Donizetti’s opera is based on a libretto by Domenico Gilardoni and was premièred at the Del Fondo Theatre on 19th August1827 and was a success. The following year it was a flop at La Scala, although that is the edition used here. After performances in Barcelona (1829), Vienna (1836), Berlin (1837), and Budapest (1839, ibid. Osborne p170), the work fell into oblivion until 1973 when it was staged, and recorded, at performances in the Netherlands town, now called Zaandam, with a cast that included the British tenor Philip Langridge as Pietro Flimann and the renowned Italian baritone Renato Capecchi as Il Borgomastro.

In the libretto, Peter the Great seeks to energise the development of his rather backward home country by working as an artisan in one of the shipyards of Holland and experiencing the skills involved. In doing so he works alongside the Russian defector Flimann who is from humble background and is in love with, and desperate to marry Marietta, the daughter of the mayor. The mayor, knowing that the Tsar has come to town in disguise, becomes convinced that Flimann is in fact Peter the Great. Meanwhile, the true tsar is called home to quell a revolt and has to reveal his true identity. Before leaving, he gives Flimann a title, which will enable him to marry his Marietta. The set involves the hull skeleton of a ship and projections on a rear screen in act one. In act two, cinematic activity plays an even more important part as background to the evolution of the plot.

The performance derives from the 2017 Donizetti Festival held annually in the composer’s hometown of Bergamo. The Annual Festival stages otherwise neglected works by the composer in the local theatre. I suspect that it is deliberate that neither the auditorium nor the exterior of the town theatre is shown. Unlike Pesaro, which features several productions of Rossini operas each year, with international casts being filmed and recorded, the annual event at Bergamo operates on a more restricted budget. Nonetheless, it attracts Donizetti enthusiasts from around the world, not least from the UK, which fosters an enthusiastic Donizetti Society, which publishes a regular magazine. This production directed by internationally renowned cinema director Davide Ferrario and, as indicated, features cinematic effects, particularly in act two.

Roberto Rizzi Brignoli conducts this performance with singular physical enthusiasm, the players responding to him. We never see the full orchestra pit, but the sound is well balanced and singularly adequate for Donizetti’s music and the assembled cast. As Peter, Giorgio Caoduro exhibits a pleasing and fulsome baritone voice and acts the role well. Likewise Juan Francisco Gatell as Pietro Flimann who has deserted Russia some time before. He has not got the ideal vocal mellifluousness that one finds in the tenor role of Don Giovanni for example, but he is adequate and acts well. Similar skills and limitations are evident in the Marietta of Irina Dubrovskaya. However, she looks the part. Pasquale Scircoli is convincing as Alì Mahmed, but the acted and sung star is that of the buffo bass Andrea Concetti in the role of the mayor. The chorus sing sonorously and act their roles well.

Robert J Farr



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