DONIZETTI Rita • Mark Elder, cond; Katarina Karnéus (Rita); Barry Banks (Pepé); Christopher Maltman (Gasparo); Hallé O • OPERA RARA 50 (63:41 Text and Translation)
Donizetti’s Rita has been subjected to much ill treatment sinceRead more its belated posthumous premiere, but we now have a recording that takes the work on its own terms. There is no scatterbrained soubrette in the title role but a more substantial high mezzo, altering the aural weight. Although none of the performers is a native French speaker, the coaching has paid off, with even the dialogue sounding unforced. The plot is simple: Rita, thinking her first husband (Gasparo) is dead, is married to Pepé. Gasparo turns up at their inn, not realizing who the owner is; he discovers that the once-docile Rita has become a shrew and challenges Pepé to a combat, the loser getting Rita. Each character has an aria, there are three duets and a final trio, all displaying the mastery of late Donizetti, and the charm that only he could bring to bucolic comedy. Katarina Karnéus in the title role is a surprise not only because of her vocal quality but also because of the ease with which she dispatches her music (comfortably written, it must be admitted). Barry Banks may not match Juan Diego Flórez in his aria, but the élan matches his colleague. Christopher Maltman almost matches his fellow cast members but occasionally finds it heavy going. Mark Elder once again demonstrates that he is a committed Donizettian, and his Hallé Orchestra follows him devotedly. A comparison with the DVD that I reviewed in July 2013 is all in favor of Opera Rara’s 50th complete recording: The singing is more accomplished, the orchestra is several levels above that of Liège, and there are none of the visual distractions that most directors seem to feel it necessary to impose in order to retain the attention of audiences accustomed to multi-tasking. And of course, there is the usual luxurious documentation, this time by Francesco Bellotto.