Pietro il grande
Roberto De Candia, Marco Filippo Romano, Paola Gradina, Francisco Brito; Gli Originali/Rinaldo Alessandrini; dir. Marco Paciotti and Lorenzo Pasquali (Bergamo, 2019)
Dynamic DVD: 37847; Blu-ray: 57847 167 mins
Peter the Great. The great political reformer. The social moderniser who transformed Russia along Western lines. The man who banned beards. None of this features in Donizetti’s long-forgotten comic opera. Instead, Peter travels incognito to a rustic inn, bumps into his long-lost brother-in-law and objects to the political connections of said brother-in-law’s girlfriend.
The Fondazione Teatro Donizetti continues to resurrect the composer’s most obscure works. Composed in 1819 and now revived for its bicentenary, Pietro il grande is very early Donizetti indeed. Undoubtedly an impressive achievement for a composer of only 22 and charming enough in its way, the opera is, inevitably, musically and dramatically slighter than his mature works.
The comedy roles shine brightest here. Marco Filippo Romano stands out with his characterful interpretation of the patter role, the pompous Magistrate Ser Cuccupis. Paola Gardina, a warm, gleaming mezzo, is equally amusing as the coquettish Madama Fritz, but also reveals expressive depths. Roberto De Candia is commanding in the title role. The central lovers are less distinct presences, though Francisco Brito (Carlo) has an attractively honeyed bright tenor voice.
The carnivalesque staging involves abstract shapes, primary colours and strobe lighting. The characters look as if they have stepped straight out of a painting by Joan Miró. Donizetti devotees will no doubt be delighted with this rarity, but it may prove a slightly surreal experience for anyone else.