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Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)
Le Convenienze ed Inconvenienze Teatrali -drama giocoso in due atti (1827/1831)
Daria - Patrizia Ciofi (soprano); Procolo - Charles Rice (baritone); Biscroma Strappaviscere - Pietri Di Bianco (bass baritone); Mama Agata - Laurent Naouri (bass baritone); Luigia - Clara Meloni (soprano); Guglielmo – Enea Scala (tenor); Pippetto – Katherine Aitken (mezzo); Cesare Salzapariglia – Enrique Martinez-Castignani (baritone); Impresario – Piotr Micinski (bass); Stage Manager – Dominique Beneforti (baritone);
Chorus and Orchestra of the Opéra de Lyon/Lorenzo Viotti
Stage director: Laurent Pelly
Set designer: Chatal Thomas
Costume designer: Laurent Pelly
rec. 6-8 July, 2017, Opéra National de Lyon
Picture Format: HD, 16:9
Sound formats: PCM Stereo, DTS MA-HD
Booklet notes: English
Subtitles: English, German, French, Italian, Japanese, Korean
OPUS ARTE Blu-ray OABD7289D [ 114 mins]

Le Convenienze ed Inconvenienze Teatrali is Donizetti’s 21st opera, which he wrote as a one act farce for Naples in 1827. In 1831 he set about revising the farce by working it into two acts and adding recitatives for Milan. This new Blu-ray release is of the revised 1831 version which sometimes goes by the title Viva La Mama.

Donizetti’s opera is about the chaotic backstage life of an opera company, not unlike the goings-on that occur in the prologue of Ariadne auf Naxos. The somewhat confusing title could best been translated as “The Traditions and Inconveniences of the Theater”. Tradtions in this case refers to the rigid pecking order of first singer, second singer, and comprimario, and the number of scenes and arias that each designation traditionally would be granted to the singer. Donizetti’s most singularly funny invention is having a bass en travesti as Mama Agata. Sergei Prokofiev did the same thing quite memorably with the character of the cook in his 1921 opera L’Amour de Trois Oranges. Donizetti’s perfect send-up of all stage mothers would make Mama Rose from Gypsy blush. The plot concerns a down-on-its-luck opera troupe rehearsing their next new opera with the usual silly behaviour from the singers, composer, librettist and impresario alike.

Laurent Pelly’s production is a splendidly choreographed staging that both amuses and impresses. Pelly has updated the action to roughly the 1940s where the opera troupe has fallen on some pretty hard times. The opera house has been converted into a parking garage when Act One opens. Gradually it turns back into a proper auditorium but by the chaotic end of the opera the demolition crews start to take over again. Chantal Thomas’ set is very evocative and Pelly’s costumes for each one of the characters is spot on.

Among the singers it is virtually Laurent Naouri’s show. His assumption of Mama Agata is overpowering, astute and funny. Vocally, he passes from low bass growls to high pitched falsetto. He is always working in the service of the plot and never veers too much into caricature. Donizetti’s wonderful send-up of Rossini’s Willow Song from Otello is in assured hands with Naouri. Patrizia Ciofi gives a sparkling and funny performance of the primma dona, Daria. She puts on an ego display that is easily three times her petite frame. Her crystalline singing belies the passing years with the bone china perfection of her tone and agility. She has been given an extra showpiece aria in Act Two, which is from Saverio Mercadante’s Virginia: her bravura performance of it completely justifies its inclusion. Clara Meloni as Luigia is an exquisite lyric soprano who also gets given her own dropped-in aria which I cannot identify the origin as the booklet doesn’t mention them, However, her deeply emotional performance of it is the most tender and touching point of the evening.

Among the male members of the cast Charles Rice is enormously entertaining as Procolo. The director has given this character a delightful effeminate twist and Rice flounces through his part perfectly; all the while producing a focused golden baritone that gives constant pleasure. Enea Scala as the German tenor Guglielmo sings his music with the bright gleaming timbre of a bel-canto specialist. A highlight of his performance is his long duet with Naouri’s Mama Agata. The rest of the cast have less flashy roles and are mostly distributed among bass and baritone performers, none of whom let their side down for an instant.

Musically things are under the sprightly direction of Lorenzo Viotti, son of the late lamented Swiss conductor Marcello Viotti. The Lyon forces are wonderfully taut and crisp in execution and they obviously respond well to him. Lorenzo seems to have inherited his father’s gifts with abundance and I look forward to encountering more from him. Viotti works with several orchestras in the Netherlands so I have no doubt that I will run across him again.

There is a previous incarnation of Le Convenienze ed Inconvenienze Teatrali from La Scala that was for a time available on DVD from Bel Air classics both as a solo disc and as part of a Donizetti box set (review). It too had a marvellous cast featured in a great staging which set the action close to the date of its composition. It boasted great performances especially from Jessica Pratt and Vincenzo Taormina. However, because of the superior picture quality available from this Opus Arte Blu-ray, I have no hesitation in making this release a first recommendation for those who want to experience this utterly delightful comedy.

Mike Parr

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