Notes and Editorial Reviews
Here is a brief historical background to Ugo, conte di Parigi. He was Hugues Capet, a powerful feudal lord in the 10th century. When the Carolingian dynasty (successors of Charlemagne) died out with the childless Louis V (Luigi) in 987, Hugues was elected king of France, becoming the founder of the Capetian dynasty that ruled the country until 1328, the onset of the Valois kings. A five-act French play by Hyppolyte Bis called Blanche d’Acquitaine ou le dernier des Carlovingiens (1827) dealt with the dark and deadly intrigues that preceded the death of young Louis V. Five years later, Felice Romani forged an opera libretto for Gaetano Donizetti from the play’s basic ingredients, eliminating many of the drama’s characters, most of its
complications, and, regrettably, much of its cohesiveness. But Romani cannot be entirely blamed for the opera’s deficiencies. Regicide and adultery lay at the foundation of the Bis play, elements not acceptable to the Milanese censorship of the 1830s. By the time the censors had done their work, the embittered Romani refused to have his name associated with the opera.
Ugo was introduced at La Scala on March 13, 1832, during a feverishly productive period in Donizetti’s career, accounting for 11 operas between 1830 and 1832. Anna Bolena and L’elisir d’amore represent the peak of his achievements during those two years, but Bellini’s Norma (December 26, 1831) may have played an even more important part in the short life of Ugo. Felice Romani was the librettist for both operas, and both shared the same legendary principals: sopranos Giuditta Pasta and Giulia Grisi, and tenor Domenico Donzelli. But, while Norma’s subsequent path consisted of a series of triumphs, Ugo dropped from currency soon after the premiere, and lay dormant until its first complete recording (Opera Rara ORC 1) in 1977. Elements of Ugo were eventually recycled by Donizetti for his later operas, as detailed in Danilo Prefumo’s informative annotations with the Dynamic set. Ugo may be the opera’s title character, but the true principals are the rival Aquitaine princesses Bianca and Adelia, for whom Donizetti contrived attractive duets somewhat similar to the Norma-Adalgisa confrontations, though not on the level of inspiration that distinguishes the Bellini models. Bianca is betrothed to King Luigi, but refuses to marry him. In secret, she loves Ugo, who is in love with Adelia. During the opera, the initially sympathetic Bianca gradually reveals hysterical tendencies and, when she discovers Adelia’s commitment to Ugo, her frenzy drives her to suicide. The opera’s ending is inconclusive, not to say clumsy: King Luigi is still alive, Ugo is still “Conte di Parigi,” and Emma, the mother of the rival sisters, is tormented by a guilty past the libretto fails to clarify, though Jeremy Commons’s extensive notes to the Opera Rara set provide some interesting speculations.
That earlier set, with its prominent British performers, is marginally preferable to the more recent Bergamo live recording, which features a young but attractive international cast of singers unfamiliar to me and not otherwise identified in the notes. Dynamic’s rather boxy sound, in all ways inferior to its 1977 predecessor, is still quite acceptable.
Dynamic’s notes contain a disclaimer, crediting soprano Dimitriu for performing “despite a slight illness.” She is quite a trooper, though, because her portrayal of Bianca is passionate in its commitment and quite virtuosic in execution, particularly in the chromatic runs of the cabaletta “No, che infelice appieno” (I, 8). The role is quite demanding, and Ms. Dimitriu fearlessly rises to all its challenges. Carmen Giannattasio’s portrayal of the gentler Adelia is also above reproach; in her very effective duet with Ugo (I, 19), she far surpasses her tenor partner’s acceptable but uneven contribution. Dramatically, the opera’s finale leaves the listener somewhat shortchanged, but the solid Emma (mezzo Milijana Nikolic) and the frenetic Bianca (Doina Dimitriu) leave no tone unturned.
Donizetti wrote the part of the young King Luigi for a mezzo-soprano, and Opera Rara’s Della Jones performs it admirably. Dynamic has chosen a male alto (Sym Tokyurek), tonally less secure but quite appropriate in capturing a certain weakness and immaturity in the young king’s character. Weakest in the cast is the unfocused baritone interpreter of Folco di Angiò (read Anjou), a mean-spirited intriguer who drops out of the action toward the end, missed by no one. Comparison with the Opera Rara set reveals several minor cuts, primarily in the second act; since Dynamic is contained on two CDs, not three, this is a minor consideration.
Musically, Ugo, conte di Parigi is not a negligible work at all, rich in well-crafted ensembles, such as the powerful act I finale and the chorus-supported Trio in act II (II, 10). Its absence from the repertoire is due to the wealth of so many Donizetti operas that are both stronger and make more sense on stage.
George Jellinek, FANFARE
Works on This Recording
Ugo, conte di Parigi by Gaetano Donizetti
Yasu Nakajima (Tenor),
Carmen Giannattasio (Soprano),
Doina Dimitriu (Soprano),
Sim Tokyurek (Counter Tenor),
Deyan Vatchkov (Bass),
Milijana Nikolic (Mezzo Soprano)
Bergamo Teatro Donizetti Orchestra,
Bergamo Teatro Donizetti Chorus
Written: 1832; Italy
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