Notes and Editorial Reviews
In his day, Meyerbeer’s operas dominated the stages of Europe. He was the creator of what was called Grand Opéra that featured spectacular productions, and was written in the Italian tradition for great singers. However, the inevitable process of change produced a reaction. As Michael Scott pointed out in his notes for the only other commercial recording of Dinorah, German composers, principally Schumann and Weber, criticized Meyerbeer’s works, and Wagner echoed their attacks. As Scott said: “The German ideal, in the music of Wagner, has triumphed; taking its cue from Bayreuth, the opera house has ceased to be principally a place of entertainment, and instead become a temple of enlightenment.” Although Scott’s opinion was written in
1980, it is still valid today.
In the latter stages of his career, Meyerbeer entered the realm of opéra comique, first with L’étoile du nord in 1854; five years later, he composed Le pardon de Ploërmel. In the same year, 1859, it was given in London, translated into Italian, and known as Dinorah. The opera was exceedingly successful at the Opéra-Comique in Paris, the 100th performance was given in 1874, and by 1900, it had been staged more than 200 times.
Today Dinorah is rarely performed and this recording is the second to be issued on commercial disc. The first dates from 1980, and is really Le pardon de Ploërmel since it is sung in French and was issued by Opera Rara, even though it is entitled Dinorah. This live recording was performed in 1983 in Trieste. Earlier, a performance from Brussels in 1953 was issued on the pirate EJS label.
Originally, Meyerbeer had intended to write a one-act opera, and had Barbier and Carré write the libretto. They used an old Breton legend as the source, and provided the composer with three scenes and three characters, calling it Dinorah. However, the director of the Opéra-Comique convinced Meyerbeer that a single-act opera was not right for the renowned composer, and Meyerbeer developed the work into a three-act opera, with a chorus and a number of minor characters. He not only composed the music for the additions but also wrote the libretto, and for the London premiere added the aria for the goatherd. Meyerbeer thus was responsible for about three-quarters of the text.
According to the legend on which this opera is based, Höel and Dinorah are about to be married when a storm occurs and Dinorah’s home is destroyed by lightning. Höel learns of a treasure of the Korigans and goes off in search of it so that he can afford to rebuild the house. A wizard, Tonik, tells Höel that he must spend a year in solitude before he can find the treasure. Höel departs without informing Dinorah, who goes mad and wanders through the woods seeking him, along with her pet goat.
The opera’s first scene takes place a year later with a short chorus. Dinorah enters, looking for her goat, finds the goat sleeping, and sings a lullaby. She leaves and Corentin, a bagpiper, enters. He sings an aria about his fear that goblins and dwarfs haunt the area. Dinorah is attracted by Corentin’s song and joins him in a duet that exhausts both of them and they fall asleep in Corentin’s hut. When Höel returns after his year’s absence, he is confident that he has discovered the secret of the treasure, but he is also convinced that the first to touch it will die. When he knocks on the door of Corentin’s hut, Dinorah jumps out the window. Höel decides to use Corentin and sends him out to buy wine. In his aria, Höel exults at the prospect of securing the treasure. Corentin returns, and Höel tells him of the treasure and offers to share it with him. Corentin is both fascinated and fearful. In a duet, Höel makes Corentin repeat after him the conjuration that will render all the dark spirits and goblins harmless. Dinorah appears at the window and throws in a bouquet. Corentin is frightened and Höel doesn’t recognize her. Corentin decides to join Höel in a duet in which Corentin drinks to give himself courage while Höel tries to calm Corentin’s fears. When they hear the sound of a goat bell, they think the goat will guide them to the treasure. Dinorah is in search of her goat, and the act ends in a trio in which Dinorah calls out for her pet goat, Corentin calls upon the saints to protect him, and Höel is excited by the prospect of the treasure. The curtain falls when a ray of moonlight reveals the goat high on the top of a cliff.
Act II begins with a short chorus; then a goatherd enters and tells them the story of Dinorah’s lost love and madness. They all leave and Dinorah enters to sing the most famous aria in the opera, the Shadow Song. She runs off, and Höel and Corentin enter searching for the goat. Corentin is tired and Höel goes off in search of the treasure. Corentin, in his aria, tries to laugh off his depression. Dinorah enters, sings of the curse of the treasure and leaves. Höel returns and wants Corentin to go into the ravine to find the treasure, but Corentin declines mentioning the story of the curse. Both then refuse to search for the treasure. Dinorah comes back, and when a storm breaks out, Höel recognizes her. Dinorah falls into the chasm, and Höel goes to rescue her.
The first part of the third act is a pastoral interlude not directly related to the central plot. A huntsman sings a joyous air. A reaper follows with an aria, and then two goatherds sing a duet. All join in a quartet singing about the storm, and pray to God for sunshine. Corentin enters, followed by Höel, who is carrying the unconscious Dinorah. When she begins to revive, Höel sings his most famous aria, “Sei vendicata assai.” He is remorseful, and begs her to speak to him. Dinorah awakens; her reason returns and the lovers resume their interrupted wedding ceremony.
It is not surprising that this type of plot does not interest contemporary audiences. However, the music, written by a great composer for the human voice, is certainly well worth listening to. All three major roles require excellent singers. The role of Höel lies high in the baritone register, and a first-rate tenor is necessary for Corentin. Both roles are actually longer than that of the title character, but Dinorah’s Shadow Song has been in the repertoire of every coloratura soprano since Adelina Patti who first made the international reputation of the opera singing it in major opera houses from 1869 to 1884.
In this performance, Luciana Serra is an ideal Dinorah. She has the technique and sensitivity for the role, and is successful in blending the vocal acrobatics necessary to the more lyrical aspects of the music. Angelo Romero’s strongly voiced Höel copes well with the fearsome high tessitura, and exhibits dramatic intensity when required. Max-René Cosotti is a first-rate Corentin. The smaller roles are also well cast, with Francesco Ellero D’Artegna as the huntsman, Giuseppe Botta as the reaper, and especially Gloria Scalchi whose Goatherd aria is excellently sung. The sound is quite acceptable. Unfortunately for such a little known opera, there are no notes; nor is a libretto provided.
Since the probability of any competing version is slim, and the two earlier recordings are either out of print or very difficult to acquire, I strongly recommend this recording.
FANFARE: Bob Rose
Works on This Recording
Le pardon de Ploërmel "Dinorah" by Giacomo Meyerbeer
Luciana Serra (Soprano),
Max René Cosotti (Tenor),
Angelo Romero (Bass),
Francesco Ellero d'Artegna (Bass)
Trieste Teatro Verdi Orchestra
Written: 1859; Germany
Date of Recording: 02/08/1983
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