Notes and Editorial Reviews
Composed for Venice in 1837, just a year-and-a-half after the fantastic success of Lucia di Lammermoor, Pia de' Tolomei "pleased altogether", in the composer's words. He revised it a couple of times thereafter and it was shown at various theaters as distant as Malta until 1855, after which it disappeared. It takes place in 13th-century Siena: Pia is married to Nello; his cousin Ghino loves her but she refuses his advances. Ghino angrily accuses Pia of adultery with an unknown man, who turns out to be Pia's brother, Rodrigo, and Nello imprisons her. Ghino eventually feels remorse and confesses his deception, but not soon enough to save Pia from being poisoned by Nello.
One of the formal weaknesses of the opera is that Rodrigo is a mezzo-soprano role, and that type of travesty never quite works; but even elsewhere, the fact that Pia is so passive, added to generally formulaic writing, keeps the opera from being a winner. Still, there are some fine Donizettian tunes and scenes, and it's worth hearing.
This live performance finds a remarkably committed cast struggling uphill against Donizetti's lack of true inspiration, but the singers turn out a satisfying experience in the end. The star is Patrizia Ciofi as Pia. She delivers a specific, focused reading, beautifully sung and filled with as much textual and tonal nuance as the score allows. Her voice has gained body in the middle and the top still gleams. Ghino is sung by tenor Dario Schmunck, and he exhibits a fine, ringing tenor and good Donizettian style; his opening aria and cabaletta and the second half of his duet with Nello are exciting, vigorous parts of the score, and he tears into them well. Baritone Andrew Schroeder has a nice snarl as Nello, but aside from the cabaletta to his duet with Ghino he has pretty ordinary music. Rodrigo is given similarly uninteresting music, and Laura Polverelli sings it well enough. The chorus sings with as much involvement as the cast, which is saying a great deal, and the orchestra plays with verve under Paolo Arrivabeni. Recommended for Donizetti completists.
--Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com
Italian/English libretto included.