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Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)
L’Ange de Nisida (The Angle of Nisida) opera semiseria in four acts (1839)
Libretto: Alphonse Royer and Gustave Vaëz
(Performing edition prepared by Candida Mantica)
Countess Sylvia de Linares – Joyce El-Khoury (soprano)
Leone de Casaldi – David Junghoon Kim (tenor)
Don Gasper – Laurent Naouri (bass-baritone)
Don Fernand d’Aragon – Vito Priante (baritone)
The Monk / Father Superior – Evgeny Stavinsky (bass)
Royal Opera Chorus (chorus director: William Spaulding)
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House/Sir Mark Elder
rec. live, 18 & 21 July 2018, Royal Opera House, London
French libretto with English translation provided.
OPERA RARA ORC58 [79.54 + 76.49]

Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor (1835), La fille du regiment (1840) and Don Pasquale (1843) number amongst my favourite operas and although I don’t give it the same elevated status, I also admire La favorite (1840). So any new release of an unperformed Donizetti opera is of great interest to me. Opera Rara, under its artistic director Sir Mark Elder, continues its sterling work in recovering rare and neglected operas with a recording of the world premiere performance of Donizetti’s L’Ange de Nisida (The Angel of Nisida) an opera semiseria. A decade ago musicologist Candida Mantica assumed the task of reconstructing Donizetti’s unperformed score from fragmentary manuscripts.

As a result of Donizetti’s success with Lucie de Lammermoor, a French language version of his Lucia di Lammermoor, at the Théâtre de la Renaissance, Paris in August 1839, the company commissioned him to write a new opera. In response Donizetti provided his four-act opera L’Ange de Nisida to a libretto by Alphonse Royer and Gustave Vaëz, working on it until 27th December 1839 – when its final page is dated. Not untypical for Donizetti he used some material from earlier works, in particular Adelaide an Italian language opera he didn’t complete. L’Ange de Nisida was never performed, as the commissioning theatre company went bankrupt. The opera didn’t even reach rehearsal stage and only limited information is known about the intended casting, although Donizetti wished to allocate soprano Juliette Bourgeois the title role. Much of L’Ange de Nisida was reworked into the grand opera La Favorite premièred in September 1840 for the Opéra at Académie Royale de Musique, Paris.

A performing edition of L’Ange de Nisida was prepared by Candida Mantica whose editorial process involved reconstructing ninety-seven percent of Donizetti’s music and the necessary realisations have been completed by Martin Fitzpatrick. As the opera was never performed, Alphonse Royer and Gustave Vaëz’s libretto was never printed so here “the transcription mirrors the text as it appears in Donizetti’s autograph score”. The opera finally received its première in its original form in 2018 in a concert performance at Royal Opera House, London. This Opera Rara album was recorded at those concert performances. Having heard this live recording L’Ange de Nisida certainly doesn’t come across as a forgotten masterpiece but it is worthy of being heard and should give considerable pleasure to lovers of early Romantic - bel canto era operas.

The libretto of L’Ange de Nisida centres around Leone de Casaldi, an ordinary soldier in exile, who is in love with the inscrutable Countess Sylvia de Linarès. To see her, Leone travels to Nisida an island off Naples. Although the Countess loves Leone, she is the mistress of Fernand, King of Naples, and begs the soldier to forget her. Angry with Leone the King has him arrested and imprisoned. Under pressure from the Church authorities over his scandalous private life the King is told to abandon his mistress. Plotting with his chamberlain Don Gaspar, the king frees Leone to marry Sylvia intending then send him away and have Sylvia remain his mistress. Discovering the plot, Leone flees to a monastery to profess vows. Sylvia, who is ill, follows Leone to the monastery to plead for forgiveness, before collapsing and dying.

Highly assured soprano Joyce El-Khoury excels in the role of Sylvia. Her secure technique permits her to maintain focus, producing a lovely bright tone and accomplishing impressive leaps to her highest notes. From act three, scene three Sylvia’s main aria is ‘Leone! Faut-il que I’infamie’,which El-Khoury performs very attractively, creating genuine feeling. As the soldier Leone, tenor David Junghoon Kim is also in fine form, combining his attractive, clear tone with requisite dramatic bite. As he celebrates his freedom, Leone’s act two aria ‘Quelle ivresse et quel délire!’ is sung with heroic feeling, while achieving imposing high notes.

There is a memorable and intelligent performance from bass-baritone Laurent Naouri as the braggart Don Gasper. Revealing good focus, Naouri is suitably rhythmic in his notable act one, scene two aria ‘Or ça, vous ignorez quelle est cette étrangère’ boasting to the townspeople of his close relationship with the king which allows him to arrange anything he wants. As the king, baritone Vito Priante sings well, and especially striking is his act two aria ‘Ô mon ange que j’implore’, where he implores Sylvia to accept his love again. A new name to me, Evgeny Stavinsky does all that is asked of him in the role of the Father Superior and I look forward to hearing the bass in a more prominent role. A very experienced opera conductor, Mark Elder draws expressive playing from the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, who respond with first-class playing of real commitment. Under director William Spaulding the Royal Opera Chorus meet every challenge admirably.

Recorded at Royal Opera House, London in live concert performances the sound team led by Steve Portnoi has provided excellent clarity and balance. The booklet is lavishly detailed with an essay from Roger Parker ‘In search of a lost angel’ and a second essay ‘A tale of (no longer) missed opportunities’ written by Candida Mantica which explains her editorial procedure. There is also a synopsis together with French libretto and an English translation.

Donizetti devotees and opera lovers in general have no reason to hesitate with Opera Rara’s latest release L’Ange de Nisida.

Michael Cookson

 

 



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