Respighi: La campana sommersa

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LABELS: Accord
WORKS: La campana sommersa
PERFORMER: Laura Aikin, John Daszak, Ewa Wolak, Roderick Earle, Kevin Conners, Alessandra Rezza, Peter Klaveness, Paul Kong; Junior Opera Chorus, Montpellier National Orchestra/Friedemann Layer
CATALOGUE NO: 476 1884
La campana sommersa (The Sunken Bell) is the seventh of Respighi’s 11 operas, written in 1924-7 at about the same time as his famous ‘Roman Trilogy’ of tone poems. With its basis in a symbolist drama by the German poet Gerhardt Hauptmann it suggests a rejection of Italian verismo (Ravel began work on an opera from the same source when under the spell of Debussy’s Pelléas), but it didn’t stop him calling upon Puccini’s muse when setting quick-moving dialogue. What sounds more distinctively personal is his conjuring of atmosphere, particular in the scenes where the elves dominate. For this is a classic fairytale of a doomed love between a sprite (Rautendelein) and a mortal (the bell-maker Enrico), so in a way this linguistic contrast parallels what Respighi saw here in the incompatibility of the worlds of man and elf: a metaphor for the realisable and unrealisable in artistic creation. Despite early stage success, the opera has been largely forgotten, so we must be thankful for concert performances such as the one recorded here, in Montpellier in 2003, for keeping the work’s spirit alive. And it’s an enjoyable listen, especially given the opulence and imagination of Respighi’s orchestral writing. His vocal lines are no less distinguished, especially the coloratura part for Rautendelein, which Laura Aiken soars through with ease (though her Italian sounds unidiomatic). John Daszak is an Enrico of Siegfried-like heroism and there’s a wonderfully sonorous contralto Sorceress from Ewa Wolak. A collector’s piece, then, rather than a long-lost masterpiece. Matthew Rye