Notes and Editorial Reviews
Linda di Chamounix
Mark Elder, cond; Eglise Gutiérrez (
); Stephen Costello (
); Marianna Pizzolato (
); Alessandro Corbelli (
); Royal Opera House, Covent Garden O & Ch
OPERA RARA ORC 43 (3 CDs: 165:33
Text and Translation) Live:
Covent Garden 9/7, 14/2009
34:2 I reviewed a new Dynamic recording of this lovely opera; I lamented that despite its having been recorded a number of times, there was not one clearly recommendable effort. (Anyone interested in the recorded history of
can find that review in the
Archive.) That situation has been remedied, and remedied triumphantly, by Opera Rara’s new version, taken from two concert performances at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. The presence of the audience is barely audible until applause at the end, and the recorded sound is warm, open, clear, and perfectly balanced. Opera Rara’s usual high production values are evident everywhere, including the superb essay in the booklet and the fact that the performance is uncut and uses the recent critical edition.
All of that would be of little value if the performance were flawed in any serious way—but it is not. While in most Donizetti operas one would start with the soprano, for my taste the galvanizing force behind this performance is conductor Mark Elder. This is a very tricky opera to get right, because it has elements of serious and comic operas blended into a form known as
. If either element is blown out of proportion or minimized, the opera loses its balance. The melodic inspiration is strong throughout, and requires an innate sense of the melodic flow to keep it moving without rushing things. At the same time, the buffo elements need their due, without ever becoming cheap or blatant. Elder is just about perfect. Long phrases throb and sing with just the right kind of shape and the perfect sense of tension and release. At the same time, there is plenty of rhythmic spine to the fast music, and a perfectly judged sense of tempo relationships.
Do not worry that my praise for the conductor is a way of beating around the bush about the soprano. The Cuban-American Eglise Gutiérrez is surely the finest soprano to record this role yet. She has it all—spectacular technique (with some amazing ornamentation to the second verse of “O! luce di quest’anima”), long, supple lines, a voice with genuine liquid beauty, and even production from top to bottom. This young singer must be headed for superstardom; I would go out of my way to hear her sing just about any Bellini or Donizetti role. She sings with urgency, intensity, and a lyrical beauty that are combined in perfect balance. Her high E? is solid and dead-center, and she even throws in a brief, but strong, F leading into the second verse of her aria. This is a truly sensational performance in every way.
Marianna Pizzolato is close to ideal in the odd role of Pierotto, a trouser role that has too often been oversung by mezzos who seemed to think it was Ulrica or Azucena. Stephen Costello may not equal Alfredo Kraus, the finest recorded Carlo, but his attractive lyric tenor has real juice in the sound, and he phrases beautifully. Alessandro Corbelli is getting on (he was 57 when this performance took place) and there is a bit of wear on the tone. He still, however, has a wonderful comprehension of the style, and he enlivens the performance with subtle inflection and an unerring sense of timing. His is the buffo role, and he knows that idiom perfectly.
Ludovic Tézier and Elizabeth Sikora, as Linda’s father and mother, are excellent, as is the remainder of the cast. The orchestra and chorus perform well; if most or all of these performers were new to the opera, as one assumes they were, they sound utterly inside the music. A smashing success all around, and an early Want List contender.
FANFARE: Henry Fogel
Taken from two concert performances in London last year, this note-complete performance of Donizetti's late, semi-seria Linda di Chamounix, while very good in many ways, still does not please entirely. Granted, the plot is hard to care about: The opening scene presents us with a group of country-folk who are leaving for Paris to find work in the winter--not exactly riveting--and from there we learn about Antonio's fears of losing the lease on his farm, and then lovely Linda, Antonio's daughter, sings a nice aria and then she and her boyfriend, Carlo, a Parisian artist (or so he claims) have a nice duet and then the Marquis, who in actuality is Carlo's father, offers to help Antonio with his lease problems and we learn that he secretly has designs on Linda and then we meet Pierotto, a singing orphan who plays the hurdy-gurdy and is also leaving for Paris to be a street musician, and then the town Prefect tells Antonio about the Marquis' true intentions toward Linda and suggests that she go to Paris and then everyone prays and half the town goes to Paris.
In Act 2 Linda is living in the lap of luxury in Paris, and Carlo, who has revealed his true self, is footing the bill--they are keeping their engagement a secret until he can convince his mother that marrying a peasant is just fine. Pierotto shows up, hurdy-gurdy in tow; then the Marquis, who has spotted and followed Linda, and then Antonio, Linda's father, still in dire straits, comes looking for Carlo to ask for money. He doesn't recognize Linda but she reveals herself; he denounces her and leaves, and moments later, when Pierotto re-appears, he tells Linda that Carlo is getting married and Linda goes insane. I won't tell you any more except that the opera ends happily.
The good news about this recording is that Mark Elder's conducting is altogether worthy of late-Donizetti, whose absolutely lovely score really needed a better libretto. Chamounix is rich in melodies. There are fine arias for bass, tenor, and soprano; three duets in Act 2 alone, terrific ensembles; and Elder paces the show with grace and warmth. The Covent Garden Orchestra sounds as if it's using very little vibrato, and the horns sound natural. Elder sees the work, rightly, as a direct precursor of Verdi--this was composed in 1842 when Verdi already had premiered his first three operas--and it has some of the complexity and intensity of the younger composer.
Other good news is tenor Stephen Costello as Carlo: On CD he has Cesare Valletti and Alfredo Kraus to compete with, and while he's not as classy as either, his voice is grander and richer. He tends to sing at one volume and needs guidance, but the voice is beautiful and so is his style. Bass Ludovic Tezier's Antonio is similarly impressive; his early aria about how much he loves his little village and wife and daughter is sung with charm, and he seems genuinely perturbed later, when he's horrified by what he thinks Linda has become. But he falls short of Giuseppe Taddei's performance on Preiser Pocket Opera.
Alessandro Corbelli's Marquis, a sort-of comic/villain (please don't make me explain) is a fine buffo, with good patter, and Marianna Pizzolato's Pierotto is enormously effective: she sings a lovely ballad whose melody returns often. Balint Szabo as the Prefect comes into his own in his last-act duet with Carlo; elsewhere he sounds muffled.
Our Linda, Eglise Gutierrez, presents problems. The voice is very attractive, she loves her high Cs, Ds, E-flats, and more, her coloratura is easily, correctly produced. But the tone is very thin at the top, much like the early 20th century canaries, and even more importantly, she does not seem engaged with the text. Granted, Linda is a ninny to whom things just keep happening; but if you compare Gutierrez's Mad Scene with, say Edita Gruberova's (on Nightingale), you'll note that personality is missing. (And Gruberova is not at her best in that recording.) Gutierrez is certainly not as dull (or miscast) as Antonietta Stella, who sounds like her own grandmother (on Pocket Opera), but she lacks the type of intensity that turns a wimpy character into something more. There are no ideas behind her notes.
This opera has not been happy on CD; I guess if you can tolerate the poor sound, the Opera D'Oro with a perfect Alfredo Kraus, albeit paired with a sharp-toned Margarita Rinaldi, may be a first choice, or, maybe the Gruberova is better. We'll just have to keep waiting. If only Sills had recorded this in her prime. It's a hard role to put across and the vocal demands are great, but Bev could have done it right. I may be being overly harsh with regard to this present recording; it actually gives great pleasure. But it needs an emotional core, and you rarely hear any passion in this set. Opera Rara's sonics are excellent and, of course, the presentation, with reams of background info, is up to their usual standards.
--Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com
Works on This Recording
Linda di Chamounix by Gaetano Donizetti
Eglise Gutierrez (Soprano),
Stephen Costello (Tenor),
Marianna Pizzolato (Mezzo Soprano),
Alessandro Corbelli (Baritone),
Ludovic Tézier (Baritone),
Bálint Szabó (Bass),
Elizabeth Sikora (Soprano)
Royal Opera House Covent Garden Orchestra,
Royal Opera House Covent Garden Chorus
Written: 1842; Italy
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