WORKS: Beatrice di Tenda
PERFORMER: Joan Sutherland, Luciano Pavarotti, Cornelius Opthof, Josephine Veasey, Joseph Ward; Ambrosian Opera Chorus, LSO/Richard Bonynge
CATALOGUE NO: 433 706-2 ADD
Bellini’s penultimate opera – written for La Fenice, Venice, in 1833 – has never enjoyed the popularity of such works as La sonnambula, Norma and I puritani. Listening to this vintage Joan Sutherland recording dating from 1966, it is hard to fathom why. The story is strong and stirring – a sort of cross between Maria Stuarda and La Gioconda – and offers fine roles for the wronged titular heroine, her villainous husband Filippo, her platonic admirer Orombello and his would-be mistress, Agnese del Maino (a Princess Eboli avant la lettre).
How odd that Sutherland never managed to persuade Covent Garden to mount it for her, especially with this glorious cast. The Decca set is historic because it offered the legendary Sutherland/ Pavarotti collaboration for the first time on disc.
Luciano is wonderfully stylish here, elegant and ringing: Nureyev, vocally-speaking, to Sutherland’s Fonteyn. La Stupenda was going through one of her ‘moony’, muddy-diction phases, but the vocalism is quite dazzling. It’s a joy to encounter Josephine Veasey in her only commercially recorded Italian role: velvet-toned, shining, she is Sutherland’s most lustrous mezzo rival in any bel canto recording.
More recent recordings include a Rizzoli set – Mariana Nicolescu in the title role – and a brand new one starring Edita Gruberova on the ominously named Nightingale label, which I have not yet heard. Buyers, however, can safely invest in this mid-price reissue. It would have been even more attractive if Decca had encompassed Beatrice di Tenda’s 150-minute duration on two CDs, rather than padding out a third with (nonetheless desirable) excerpts from Sutherland’s earlier recording of Sonnambula, Norma and Puritani. Hugh Canning