Notes and Editorial Reviews
This, the second of Bellini’s 10 operas, was first staged in Naples in 1826. The hero’s original name was Gernando, not to offend the historical Fernando, heir apparent to the King of Naples. Politics aside, the opera was successful, but young Bellini was persuaded to revise it under its rightful title for the Teatro Carlo Felice in Genoa in 1828. The revision involved not only the music, but the libretto as well, with Felice Romani, the poet for all of Bellini’s subsequent operas except I puritani, lending his stageworthy craft to the enterprise.
Loosely based on historical facts and a contemporary play by Carlo Roti, the opera’s plot may be simply told. Carlo, Duke of the Sicilian land of Agrigento, was overthrown by the
usurper Filippo, who threw the old duke into prison and exiled his son, Fernando, still a youth at the time. Bianca, Fernando’s sister, a young widow with a child, was saved because Filippo planned to marry her and thus claim legitimacy for the throne. But Fernando returns in disguise and worms himself into Filippo’s confidence. With his true identity revealed to some of his father’s true followers and, eventually, to his sister Bianca, the old duke is released from his chains, and Filippo is arrested.
Bianca e Fernando received only a few stagings in the Italian theaters during the 19th century, but it was rediscovered during the bel canto revival a century later and given a live studio performance on May 29, 1976, in Turin, an event captured in the present recording. (There was a subsequent recording on Nuova Era, but it was soon deleted and I am unfamiliar with it.) The Turin performance is captured in adequate sonics, with good presence on the voices. It is generally well sung, idiomatically and incisively conducted by Gabriele Ferro, uninterrupted by applause except at the act endings, and should at least temporarily satisfy Bellini enthusiasts who lack this relative rarity in their collection.
The opera’s revised Genoa version contained a full-length Overture, which one of Bellini’s biographers (Leslie Orrey) found “banal.” Conductor Ferro preferred to return to the 1826 original brief orchestral introduction that leads into the opening chorus. The opera itself is uneven, with much of the first act showing unmistakably Rossinian touches. The solo-writing for voices and chorus, however, anticipates the mature Bellini to come. Fernando’s opening aria, “A tanto duol,” is generously sprinkled with high Cs and Ds, all of which are bravely negotiated by Antonio Savastano. The ensemble-writing, beginning with the first act trio “Di Fernando son le cifre” for three expressively contrasted male voices, is ingeniously constructed. It is quite entertaining to discover two clear anticipations of Norma later on. Bianca’s first-act cabaletta “Contenta appien quest’alma” is virtually identical to Norma’s “Ah bello, a me ritorna,” the concluding allegro following “Casta diva.” In the second act, the chorus “Tutti siam” (II, 6) is equally out of Norma by way of Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata. Far from criticizing these moments, these instances should be greeted by a cheerful smile of recognition. Filippo’s music in both acts is less effective, but Bianca’s aria and cabaletta within the otherwise uninteresting act I finale again shows welcome Bellinian touches.
The highlight of act II is Bianca’s lament for her imprisoned father, “Sorgi, o padre,” which had been recorded by Claudia Muzio in the old days as a solo and, later in its proper form, as a duet with Mirella Freni and Renata Scotto (London OS 26652). Here, soprano Yashuko Hayashi delivers Bianca’s lines with touching poignancy, ably assisted by Gabriella Onesti as the companion Eloisa. The subsequent recognition scene between the siblings is well sung by Hayashi and Savastano, but dramatically not as exciting as it could have been. Fernando’s aria and cabaletta is, again, strikingly sung by tenor Savastano, but musically predictable. The rescue of the imprisoned king, however, is movingly highlighted by the high baritone Mario Machi, whose lyric sound forms an effective contrast with the darker, more ominous, but less well-rounded delivery of Enrico Fissore in the final ensembles.
There are no texts, only a serviceable synopsis by Bill Park. Of the estimable singers in this production, I recall encountering only Enrico Fissore and Antonio Savastano in previous recordings, usually in subsidiary roles. Soprano Hayashi is a new name to me, but I hope that she has built up a good career in the intervening 29 years.
George Jellinek, FANFARE
Works on This Recording
Bianca e Fernando by Vincenzo Bellini
Antonio Savastano (Tenor),
Mario Machi (Baritone),
Enrico Fissore (Bass),
Eftimios Michalopoulos (Bass),
Ignazio Del Monaco (Tenor),
Pietro Tarantino (Tenor),
Yasuko Hayashi (Soprano),
Maria Gabriella Onesti (Mezzo Soprano)
Italian Radio Symphony Orchestra Turin,
Italian Radio Chorus Turin
Written: 1828; Italy
Date of Recording: 05/29/1976
Venue: Live Turin, Italy
Length: 133 Minutes 43 Secs.
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