Notes and Editorial Reviews
We all know that Italian composers went "Scots crazy" at some point in the early 19th century, with Rossini's La donna del lago and Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor based in the highlands--and here, by the little-known Federico Ricci, is a work that premiered in Trieste in 1838, riding, one assumes, the coattails of the those two and probably many others. Federico Ricci is the brother of Luigi, also a composer. Not that much of their work is known today, although Joan Sutherland liked to include in her recitals (and recorded) a coloratura showpiece from a work called Crispino e la comare.
La prigione di Edimburgo was a great success and was quickly mounted in literally dozens
of opera houses all over Europe. Now, with 78 minutes of excerpts recorded here, we can judge it for ourselves. (I have no idea how long the whole opera is, although Opera Rara has included the entire Italian/English libretto, with the recorded sections in a different colored ink.)
Giovanna is a madwoman who kidnaps Ida's baby (they're both sopranos, with remarkably similar ranges). The father of Ida's baby is Giorgio (tenor), a smuggler, who also happens to be the man who seduced Giovanna and who, we assume, drove her mad. Tom (baritone) is the leader of the smugglers. Giorgio is really the son of the Duke of Argyle, whose men come to arrest Ida for having an illegitimate baby and murdering it. Incredulous and innocent, she says, "No, I'll go get it," but by then Giovanna has taken the baby and Ida is led away, very unhappy. Ida is put on trial and condemned to death; Giorgio is distraught and Giovanna thinks she's found a buddy in Ida. Tom is made head jailer. The crowd wants Ida dead and Giovanna points Giorgio to a bell tower in which she's hidden the baby. The prisoners set fire to their cells and it is spreading to the bell tower when Giovanna attaches the baby to a basket on a rope and lowers it to safety. She burns as the rest are relieved and live happily ever after.
The plot is pulpy but the music is terrific, full of fine tunes, sensitive orchestrations (without a hint of German influence), and cordial vocal writing, not to mention a real sense of drama within the arias, duets, ensembles, and two finales. Giovanna's music is indeed unhinged, but not with wacky mad-scene runs; rather, the unexpected harmonic turns in her first scene and the sincerity of her lullaby to a non-existent baby tell us plenty about her.
There is a hint of the wistful tunefulness of Michael Balfe's "I dreamt I dwelt in marble halls" in her first aria (or probably the other way around, since the Balfe was written in '43), and her cabaletta is effectively unpredictable. The melody that begins the sextet that launches the first finale is so lush it could be Bellinian, and the Giovanna/Giorgio duet near the opera's close would not be out of place in late Donizetti or early Verdi.
The performances are uniformly fine. Both sopranos are excellent, with Elisabetta Scano, as Ida, more purposefully lyrical than Nuccia Focile's loony, edgy Giovanna. Tenor Nicola Rossi Giordano sings with real Italian flair and is worth hearing again, and baritone Christopher Purves is a fine Tom--he sings the opera's most popular tune, a barcarolle. Gabriele Bellini leads the orchestra and chorus with zeal and they play and sing superbly. The recorded sound is impeccable, and as usual, the accompanying booklet is a short course in everything having to do with the composer and the opera. This gets better with each hearing. Bel cantists, go get it!
--Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com
Works on This Recording
La Prigione di Edinburgo by Federico Ricci
Dean Robinson (Bass),
Colin Lee (Tenor),
Nicola Rossi Giordano (Tenor),
Elisabetta Scano (Soprano),
Rebecca von Lipinski (Soprano),
Nuccia Focile (Soprano),
Christopher Purves (Baritone)
Geoffrey Mitchell Choir,
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