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Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)
Il castello di Kenilworth (1829)
Elisabetta – Jessica Pratt (soprano)
Amelia – Carmela Remigio (soprano)
Leicester – Xabier Anduaga (tenor)
Warney – Stefan Pop (tenor)
Lambourne – Dario Russo (bass)
Fanny – Federica Vitali (soprano)
Coro Donizetti Opera, Orchestra Donizetti Opera/Riccardo Frizza
rec. live, 24 & 30 November and 2 December 2018, Donizetti Opera 2018, Bergamo, Teatro Sociale
Libretto with parallel English translation enclosed
DYNAMIC CDS7834.02 [73:17 + 57:22]

Elisabetta al castello di Kenilworth was the title of this opera when it was premiered on 6 July 1829 at the Teatro San Carlo, Naples. It was revised the following year and premiered at the same house on 24 June 1830, this time under the present title. What is heard on the present recording is the original version with a happy end and this is a first time recording of this version. The two previous recordings are of the revised version. Donizetti was just a bit over 30 when he composed Elisabetta al castello di Kenilworth, but he was certainly not a beginner. This was at least his 30th opera.

The libretto by Andrea Leone Tottola is based on Victor Hugo's play Amy Robsart and Eugene Scribe's play Leicester, both in their turn based on Sir Walter Scott’s novel Kenilworth from 1821. This was Donizetti’s first excursion to the Tudor period and the opera has been overshadowed by the three works that followed: Anna Bolena (1830), Maria Stuarda (1834) and Roberto Devereux (1837). But Il castello di Kenilworth is no pale blueprint for the masterworks that followed. There is a lot of dramatically effective scenes and in particular the confrontations between Elisabetta and Amelia are worthy to stand comparison with corresponding scenes between Elisabetta and Maria in Maria Stuarda.

The story briefly: Queen Elizabeth has announced that she is going to visit Kenilworth Castle, where her favourite Leicester lives. Leicester has a new bride, Amelia, whom he loves, but he doesn’t want the queen to be displeased with him and decides to hide her during the visit. She is taken to a small cell in the castle by Leicester’s equerry, Warney. He tries to seduce her and tells her that Leicester no longer loves her. But Amelia doesn’t give in and Warney leaves, planning to revenge.

Amelia manages to escape and in a secret garden she meets the queen and tells her about Leicester’s supposed deceit. The queen hunts up Leicester and Warney and demands an explanation. Warney states that Amelia is his wife, and the queen believes him, but Leicester then tells her the truth, but the queen distrusts him. In the final act Warner tries to take Amelia away from the castle, under the pretence that Leicester has asked him to do so. Amelia refuses to follow him and he instead tries to poison her, which her confidante Fanny stops him from. In the end Warney is arrested and the queen pardons Amelia and Leicester and approves of their marriage.

The story requires two dramatic sopranos and two tenors of which Warney needs to be a powerful one for the evil role. Normally such a role is allotted to a baritone, which he also is in the revised version. Stefan Pop, whom I heard as a good Alfredo in La traviata in Hamburg some five years ago, has gained in power but lost the sap in the voice and sounds worn and strained. For all that loss he sounds suitably nasty and creates a believable portrait of the villain. Xabier Anduaga as Leicester has an agreeable voice, a little strained to begin with but he grows in stature and in the third act scene with Elisabetta (CD 2 tr. 7) he sings beautifully indeed. It is however on the shoulders of the two prima donnas that the heaviest burden rests in this opera, and both Jessica Pratt and Carmela Remigio rise to the occasion. The former isn’t quite as brilliant as she was some years ago and there is a hint of a beat in the voice, but her top notes are still intact. Carmela Remigio I saw as Donna Anna in an Aix-en-Provence production all of 15 years ago and found her vibrato quite disturbing. Here she sounds much better, even though she isn’t completely free from disturbances. But her expressivity cannot be questioned. Their encounter in the second act (CD 2 tr. 1-3) is a dramatic highlight and the quartet and the trio finale that follow are truly formidable. A vocal highlight is also Amelia’s aria in the last act (CD 2 tr. 9-10) with the otherworldly accompaniment of glass harmonica and harp. I haven’t heard either of the two previous recordings of the opera, but since this is a different version they are not comparable anyway. There is some really thrilling dramatic singing here, the live recording is good and Riccardo Frizza is a reliable conductor. Admirers of Donizetti – and we are many – should definitively give it a listen.

Göran Forsling

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