As the valuable, informative notes accompanying this release tell us, this opera was so poorly received at its premiere in 1835 that Giovanni Pacini stopped composing for five years--and this from a man who since 1813 had produced two or three operas annually. In wondrous detail, commentator Jeremy Commons quotes rotten reviews of the period, and then begins to defend the work. He never quite gets to the "masterpiece rediscovered" arena, however, and rightly he should not. What this opera is, is fun: exciting melodies; arias conceived grandly to show off the singers' abilities; thrilling, if oom-pah cabalettas (after all, Pacini was known as "Maestro delle cabalette"); nice,Read more rhythmically-propelled ensembles; and big finales. There are lots of choruses of patriots as well (too many, actually), and everyone important has an aria or two, along with juicy duets. The opera hardly has the depth or glory of other works of that era--Bellini's Norma or Puritani, Donizetti's Lucia or Anna Bolena, most of Rossini--and the libretto is lousy, but it is absolutely worth hearing. Often.
This performance is all you could ask for. The first cast was close to the best available: Meric-Lalande (creator of lead roles in Pirata, Straniera, and Lucrezia Borgia) Grisi (the first Romeo in Bellini's Capuleti), Donzelli (the first Pollione in Norma), and Domenico Coselli (Enrico Ashton at the Lucia premiere). Their 2002 counterparts may be just as illustrious, and along with David Parry's thrilling conducting, they make the opera's three hours pass like wildfire.
The plot: Charles the Bold of Burgundy (tenor) is in love with Estella (mezzo), the daughter of his tutor and mentor, Arnoldo (baritone), and she returns his love. Just as their happiness is about to be cemented, Leonora of York (soprano) arrives--Charles is betrothed to her. Leonora spots the problem immediately and the rest of the opera is spent with Leonora being enraged and insulted (which leads to political trouble as well, since she's the sister of England's Edward IV) and Estella being relatively unhinged. The opera ends on the battlefield, as Leonora regrets her grief-causing rage ("O heaven bring an end to the horror of my existence!"), the insulted Arnoldo kills Carlo, and Estella dies of whatever it is that unhappy, loony, bel canto women die of.
Texan Bruce Ford again proves himself a terrific, big-sounding bel canto tenor, able to negotiate both intricate and exclamatory music, and never afraid of heights. As the man everyone seems to be in love with, he's both heroic and ardent. Elizabeth Futral's Leonora is angry and high-flying; the role is elaborately conceived and florid. To accommodate her apparent perpetual bad mood, Leonora's fiorature is expressive of that rage, and Futral's ease in the upper third of her range (from A to E-flat) makes this a character to reckon with.
Jennifer Larmore's Estella is fabulous--we rarely get loony mezzos, and this one's a pip. Arguably, this is Larmore's finest recorded performance. Here, Pacini uses coloratura to denote not anger but craziness, and Larmore, whipping through both ends of her voice and articulating runs with a vengeance, is breathtaking. The duet between the two women in Part III is one of the score's highlights. Arnoldo is the least well-drawn of the characters--he's heroic but fatherly, vengeful but understanding--and Roberto Frontali sings the part handsomely. The remainder of the cast, and in particular Garry Magee as Guglielmo, a Swiss mountaineer (did I forget to describe the battle scenes in the Alps?), is thoroughly convincing, and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields and Geoffrey Mitchell Choir treat the score as if it were the living end. Which, in a way, it is. This is a real treat, served brilliantly.
--Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com Read less
Works on This Recording
Carlo di Borgognaby Giovanni Pacini Performer:
Helen Williams (Soprano),
Dominic Natoli (Tenor),
Garry Magee (Baritone),
Jennifer Larmore (Mezzo Soprano),
Bruce Ford (Tenor),
Elizabeth Futral (Soprano),
Roberto Frontiali (Baritone)
Academy of St. Martin in the Fields,
Geoffrey Mitchell Choir
Period: Romantic Written: by 1835; Italy Language: Italian
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
Bel Canto fanApril 8, 2012By Perry S. (New Plymouth, -)See All My Reviews"This is a typical Opera Rara production. The leads are all great in their roles, Larmore and Futral in particular. I usually make my own highlights discs from a complete opera but this one will be difficult. There are no show stoppers in the score but the music is uniformly tuneful. I suspect I will find new bits and pieces each time I listen to the opera."Report Abuse