Albina Shagimuratova, Misha Kiria, René Barbera, Marco Mimica; Opera Rara Chorus; Britten Sinfonia/Mark Elder
Opera Rara 9293800602 111:22 mins (2 discs)
Il paria was virtually wiped off the map: even otherwise comprehensive opera guides
ignore it. Donizetti was commissioned to write it for a royal gala in Naples in 1829; such occasions were more about pomp than music, and shrouded in such formal etiquette that they could just as easily break as make a work. And so it was in this case: the opera was performed just six times.
Opera Rara reveals Il paria as an opera that is melodically rich, if somewhat challenging to cast. The role of Idamore is surely one of the most difficult in the entire tenor repertoire, but René Barbera proves up to the task, effortlessly pinging out top C sharps with abandon. With his generous, pure tone, he is well matched as the love interest of Albina Shagimuratova (Neala), a soprano with a velvety, often consoling voice and an impeccable sense of line, while Misha Kiria is imposing as Zarete, the eponymous ‘pariah’. The Britten Sinfonia under Mark Elder are on superb form, the recording carefully balanced so individual instrumental lines blaze through the texture.
The plot, an angst-ridden story of forbidden love in 16th-century India, is rather ‘of its time’; yet the theme of religious fanaticism has never gone away. One thing is for sure: the painstaking work Opera Rara puts into these ventures, bringing together musicians and musicologists to resurrect long-forgotten historic gems, is admirable, and this latest recording most worthwhile.