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Bellini: La Straniera / Parry, Ciofi, Shkosa, Hall, Schmunck, Stone

Release Date: 10/14/2008 
Label:  Opera Rara   Catalog #: 38   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Vincenzo Bellini
Performer:  Roland WoodMark StoneDario SchmunckPatrizia Ciofi,   ... 
Conductor:  David Parry
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Geoffrey Mitchell ChoirLondon Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Blood-and-thunder bel canto: Opera Rara put us in their debt once more

Talk about bad luck. You marry a king, only to find that, er, he’s already got one queen. You’re hidden away, attract the unwanted attentions of other men, decried as a witch and falsely accused of murder. Such is the fate of the heroine of Bellini’s early opera. But, being Bellini, it’s jaunty stuff and the Opera Rara forces take to it with gusto. Rather fun.

-- Gramophone [11/2008]


BELLINI Read more La straniera David Parry, cond; Patrizia Ciofi ( Alaide ); Enkelejda Shkosa ( Isoletta ); Dario Schmunck ( Arturo ); Mark Stone ( Valdeburgo ); Graeme Broadbent ( Prior ); Roland Wood ( Montolino ); Aled Hall ( Osburgo ); Geoffrey Mitchell Ch; London PO OPERA RARA 38 (2 CDs: 141:19 Text and Translation)

La straniera has never achieved the popularity of other Bellini operas, but is that a result of lack of familiarity, or perhaps the fact that the composer is striving for a concision that he later abandoned? Straniera follows Pirata in the canon, and shows a desire to advance the opera constantly by rarely stopping for a full-blown aria, with many ariosos interjected in the recitative. This did not prevent contemporary audiences from reacting enthusiastically. Bellini even goes so far as to deprive the tenor of an aria, perhaps because Rubini was unavailable. The baritone’s aria is perfunctory, but then two full, slow cabaletta verses follow. But it is especially in ensembles that the characters react, and that they must—because the story is extremely complicated, derived from a French gothic novel. After the premiere, the composer revised his score when Rubini did become available, mostly with adaptations of the tenor’s vocal line when singing alone (which seem to be the choice for this recording), but also revisions in the duets with baritone (as described by Philip Gossett in Divas and Scholars ) that are not followed in the recording. Benjamin Walton is the author of Opera Rara’s accompanying essay, as authoritative as Jeremy Commons. A performance list by Thomas Kaufman is also fascinating reading, as we encounter singers who moved from seconda donna to prima donna as their fame grew.

In the title role, Patrizia Ciofi is her customary expressive self, though we might ideally want a voice of greater weight. But the soprano knows her limitations and never pushes the voice beyond its capacities, which does not mean that she is bland. In role after role, she has shown us an amazing capacity to absorb styles and provide characterizations to match: Mozart’s Susanna, the heroines of Hoffmann , Lucie, Strauss’s Sophie, Puccini’s Lauretta. Dario Schmunck may not have the requisite elegance, but he does have the thrust that is an essential aspect of his role. Engaged to Isoletta but in love with Alaide (who turns out to be the reinstated Queen Agnes), jealous of Valdeburgo who is in fact the brother of Alaide—does this give a sufficient notion of the plot?—Arturo has much cause to be in a constant state of distress, and the tenor captures this aspect of the role quite well. Isoletta is far less present (a duet in the first act, an aria and quartet in the second, but Enkelejda Shkosa’s full-blooded mezzo seizes every opportunity. Mark Stone’s light baritone does not always meet the requirements of his role, but the promise is there; for high-note fanciers, he delivers a stunning high A? Minor at the end of his aria. Graeme Broadbent is not totally imposing as the Prior, but it is Aled Hall whose over-emphatic delivery in an unpleasant voice unfortunately attracts more than its fair share of attention.

David Parry once more demonstrates his versatility, the London Philharmonic Orchestra its virtuosity, so that Bellini’s score is brought to life. A rival recording on Fonit Cetra or Ricordi features the affectations of Lucia Aliberti and the inadequacies of Vincenzo Bello, which are offset by the touching performance of the young Sara Mingardo as Isoletta. Conductor Gianfranco Masini gives us an old-fashioned reading with lots of old-fashioned cuts, while the current recording is complete (in accordance with my Ricordi score). I have not heard the recordings with Renata Scotto or Montserrat Caballé, which could very well offer further defense of the work.

FANFARE: Joel Kasow
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Works on This Recording

La straniera by Vincenzo Bellini
Performer:  Roland Wood (Baritone), Mark Stone (Baritone), Dario Schmunck (Tenor),
Patrizia Ciofi (Soprano), Graeme Broadbent (Baritone)
Conductor:  David Parry
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Geoffrey Mitchell Choir,  London Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1829; Italy 

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