Diana Damrau, Javier Camarena, Ludovic Tézier, Nicolas Testé, Annalisa Stroppa, Fernando Radó; Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro Real Madrid/Evelino Pidò; dir. Emilio Sagi
Bel Air Classiques 142
This last opera of Bellini’s may not be his greatest work – obviously Norma is that – but it is full of lovely music. The arias of the distraught heroine, who manages to go mad in each of its three acts, an unique distinction even in the annals of bel canto, are all extraordinarily beautiful as well as containing passages of hair-raising difficulty. So the most important thing to say about this production is that its star, Diana Damrau, is fully in command of all aspects of the role. Though she has been around for quite a time, she contrives to look youthful and to behave youthfully too, and her singing has all the pathos and flexibility to bring this rather pallid character to abundant life. Unlike some of the most famous performers of Elvira, but like Callas, she never dazzles with mere vocal fireworks.
Everyone else in this opera has no more than a supporting role, and the libretto of Count Pepoli is a ramshackle affair. Bellini told him that he wanted a text such that its setting would make audiences ‘weep, faint, die’ but that isn’t what he got, so that the music allotted to the competing male characters is often workaday, though there are a couple of famous numbers. The tenor hero, Lord Arturo, is taken by Javier Camarena, no actor but an expressive singer, and Ludovic Tézier is a powerful baritone. Oddly, Enrichetta di Francis, better known as Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I, has a small though important role, and is suitably distinctively coiffeured in this production.
The sets consist almost entirely of innumerable mobile chandeliers, there is no room for anything else, but eccentricities can be overlooked, eclipsed by the wonderful central performance.