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Giacomo MEYERBEER (1791-1864)
Margherita d’Anjou
Margherita d’Anjou - Giulia De Blasis
Isaura - Gaia Petrone
The Duke of Lavarenne - Anton Rositskiy
Carlo Belmonte - Laurence Meikle
Riccardo - Bastian Thomas Kohl
Michele Gamaute - Marco Filippo Romano
Bellapunta - Lorenzo Izzo
Orner - Dielli Hoxha
Gertrude - Elena Tereshchenko
Carbotti - Edoardo Arcangelo
Piacenza Municipal Theatre Chorus
Orchestra Internazionale d'Italia/Fabio Luisi
rec. live, July-August 2017, Palazza Ducale, Festival della Valle d’Itria, Martina Franca.
DYNAMIC CDS7802.02 [76:15 + 78:17]

This rare Meyerbeer opera has been issued by Dynamic in both CD and DVD forms from performances recorded live in Martina Franca. I have not seen the DVD, and from what I have read about the production have no great wish to do so. However, if you fancy a version transposed from the Wars of the Roses to London Fashion Week, it may be your cup of tea. Unfortunately, neither have I had access to the Opera Rara recording of this opera made in 2002 (review) after a concert performance in the Festival Hall, but as the timing of that recording is 171 minutes compared to the 154 minutes of the recording under review, it would appear that this new one has some sizeable cuts. This may in itself be sufficient for you to prefer the Opera Rara set (which also has a strong cast of Annick Massis, Bruce Ford and Daniela Barcellona conducted by David Parry).

Margherita d’Anjou, written in 1820, is the fourth of the six Italian operas Meyerbeer composed at the beginning of his career, and its debt to Rossini is manifest in every way, but that does not stop it from being a very enjoyable experience. The plot is an early example of the fascination that all Europe developed for medieval and Tudor British history in the wake of Sir Walter Scott. As with most such operas, it plays so fast and loose with the actual historical events that one wonders why they didn’t just invent the whole thing from scratch. The opera is also an oddity in that the usual virtuoso rondo finale goes to the mezzo character of Isaura rather than the eponymous Margherita. Whilst no-one could pretend that the work is a masterpiece, the music is very attractive and quite memorable, certainly much more so than a good number of the obscure 19th century operas I have reviewed over the last few years. The duet for Isaura and Lavarenne in Act (CD1 tr.13) has an exquisite orchestral introduction, Lavarenne has a lovely aria in Act 2 (CD2 tr.10) and the long two-part aria for Margherita with a long violin introduction and obligato is most attractive (this combination of soprano aria and mini-violin concerto became very popular in operas between about 1820 and 1840).

The cast is a relatively unknown one, but they all make a decent fist of the difficult music, and the performance has the advantage of having Italian singers in many of the principal roles. Giulia De Blasis sings Margherita quite well, but the top of the voice is rather shrill and the tone has a sort of “edge of the vocal chords” quality which is not particularly attractive. Her fioritura is quite good, though it does not have the definition or fluency of a real mistress of the art, for example in ‘Ś, verṛ, spietate stelle’, the cabaletta section of the Act 2 aria with violin. Despite my comments about the advantages of a largely Italian cast, she is also the singer whose delivery of the text is the poorest. At times it is incomprehensible without following the libretto and she does very little specific verbal characterisation. Gaia Petrone’s Isaura is much better both in her use of the words and the fluency of her fioritura. She makes quite a technical tour de force of the final rondo and her runs throughout have real definition. The quality of the timbre is also very attractive and her legato is smooth. The tenor role of Lavarenne is sung by a Russian, Anton Rositskiy, but his Italian is excellent (his enunciation, indeed, is far better than that of native Italian De Blassis). He is a light, high tenor of the sort that has had a remarkable renaissance over the last twenty years or so; forty years ago his singing here would have created a sensation. Although he is not quite in the same league, he of the same school as Florez. The top is very free and his fioritura excellent. The part does, just once, take him beyond his comfort zone with a top E in ‘Per noi di gloria’, the cabaletta to his Act 1 aria. If this note is in the score (it is a part of a cadential flourish) I think we can forgive him a sense of strain at that altitude, if it was an interpolation, then it was not a particularly wise one. His performance is also sensitive to line and dynamic shading and I look forward to encountering him again. The role of Carlo Belmonte would in other operas be the part of the ‘baddie’, but here, though he begins as such, he changes sides and becomes a supporter and defender of Margherita. Australian Laurence Meikle has a serviceable voice, but the part is for a bass (Alistair Miles sings it in the Opera Rara set). Meikle has apparently only recently made the transition from baritone to bass, and the voice still sounds more like a baritone to me; certainly, some of the lower notes lack power and resonance, though he sang Osmin at the San Carlo a couple of months after this performance. In the role of Michele Gamaute, Marco Filippo Romano provides the comic relief which makes the piece a semi-seria. This is a character part rather than one which demands bel canto vocalism, and Romano performs it very well, managing not to be merely tiresome, as such characters usually are. Fabio Luisi conducts the excellent orchestra very idiomatically, though the chorus is a little rough and ready.

The recording is fine, with the voices nice and forward and with none of the fading in and out of aural picture that can happen in recordings of staged performances. There is, of course, some stage noise and audience applause, but I never found it remotely disturbing.

Production is adequate, with a double CD case rather than a box, containing a short booklet giving historical background and plot summary, but absolutely nothing about the production or performers (all my information about the singers came from Google searches). Dynamic go for the understandable but nevertheless irritating modern practice of making us go onto the label’s website to download the libretto with English translation, which is, of course, in A4 size, so is not easy to keep with the CDs.

I enjoyed this set considerably more than I had expected. A ‘Meyerbeer revival’ has been talked about for over twenty years, but is a long time a-coming. There have been signs of it with the Robert le Diable at Covent Garden a few years ago and the more recent Huguenots with Florez in Berlin, but the prejudice is so deeply ingrained in people with no actual knowledge of his music that I fear it will still be a long time before he is properly re-evaluated. This fine set could well open the ears of opera lovers with a taste for the early romantic repertoire.

Paul Steinson



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