Donizetti: Rita (Deux hommes et une femme)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Donizetti
LABELS: Opera Rara
ALBUM TITLE: Donizetti: Rita (Deux hommes et une femme)
WORKS: Rita (Deux hommes et une femme)
PERFORMER: Katarina Karnéus, Barry Banks, Christopher Maltman; Hallé/Mark Elder
CATALOGUE NO: ORC50

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Rita is one of Donizetti’s least-known works, perhaps because it is just over an hour long. That’s always an awkward feature, though I can think of many other brief works it could be paired with. Being in French doesn’t help either. All previous recordings of the opera have been in clumsy Italian, but this new one, as one expects from Opera Rara, is in the original language.

All told it provides an extremely enjoyable listen, its mixture of charm and spitefulness redolent of L’elisir d’amore. Rita thinks her husband Gasparo is dead, so marries Pepé so she can torment him instead. But Gasparo turns up, is delighted to find he has been replaced, and the rest of the opera is concerned with which of the husbands is doomed to live with Rita, a shrew.

There are arias and ensembles, and the dialogue (quite a bit of it) is spoken. The two men, Barry Banks, with his unmistakable slightly pained tone, and Christopher Maltman, as always wonderfully mellifluous and warm, both sing and speak French perfectly. Unfortunately, although Katarina Karnéus is on lively, lovely form, her French when singing is almost indecipherable, even when you’re following the text in Opera Rara’s exemplary booklet. The packaging, by the way, is of a standard which no other company emulates, though all should.

The singers make a great team, but what makes it so much fun is Mark Elder’s immersion in the work, which sounds almost as if it was Haydn on top form. The Hallé is impeccably idiomatic, and my one reservation apart, this is an ideal production.

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Michael Tanner