Recordings > Opera and Oratorio

DONIZETTI: Maria di Rohan

spacer Stoyanova; Bros, Purves, Sherratt, Broadbent; Geoffrey Mitchell Choir, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Elder. Text and translation. Opera Rara ORC44 (2) 

MariaRohanCD

Previous CD releases of Maria di Rohan from Nightingale Classics (Gruberová; Boncompagni), Nuova Era (Nicolesco; de Bernart) and Opera d'Oro (Scotto; Gavazzeni) all present Donizetti's revision of the opera for Paris in November 1843. Opera Rara instead offers the composer's original version, as first heard in Vienna in June of that year. The most significant difference is in the role of Armando di Gondì, in Paris a "pants" part with extensive solos, here a subsidiary tenor, effectively throwing focus more strongly toward the central love triangle. A few other numbers added for the later version are also absent.

This is one of those productions that add up to more than the sum of their parts. Much of its success rests on Mark Elder's stylish, dramatically apt conducting, even if the cantabileslack a degree of expansive flexibility. But Opera Rara's choice of a "period" ensemble for this project, rather than one of the major London orchestras, is surprising. The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment plays well and makes a good, full sound. But solo woodwinds can move a bit stiffly — save, oddly, for the liquid and expressive English horn in Act III — and the wind choir dominates the compact sonority: the tuttis in the taut overture sound particularly reedy.

The singing is competent, but the only fully formed performance comes, fortunately, from the Maria, Krassimira Stoyanova. She has a lovely legato and a strong presence, infusing the cadenzas and flourishes with impulse, hurling high notes freely at peak moments. The Bulgarian soprano's timbre occasionally seems comparatively light and bright for the music's weight, but she knows how to lean into and pace the phrases to optimal effect. Only a few uninvolved moments — she is strangely dispassionate, for example, announcing Richelieu's downfall — and some masked enunciation are debits.

Opposite her, Barcelona-born tenor José Bros sings Chalais with committed immediacy, but his actual quality is erratic. His cavatina, while strongly felt, is soft-edged and lightweight; he's actually clearer and more thrusting in the recitatives. In the first finale, he sounds nasal and pressed, almost like a comprimario; his Act II embellishments are basically free, though the uppermost notes are whitish. The tenor also seems responsible for the awkward starting tempo — too slow to flow, too quick to "breathe" — of his duet with Maria during the second finale; only when Stoyanova begins her answering strophe does the music settle more naturally.

British bass Christopher Purves, as Maria's husband, the Duke of Chevreuse, colors his phrases sensitively and inflects his lines well, but he sounds vocally "loose" and unfocused a fair amount of the time. He can sing firmly, however, when he chooses, as in his Act I cantilena; and he musters some effective, full-throated outbursts when he's angry in Act III.

Among the secondary artists, Loïc Félix is a clear, vivid Gondì, while Riccardo Simonetti is solid in the few lines of the "Famigliare." Brindley Sherratt (Fiesque) registers strongly, not without strain; Graeme Broadbent is a stiff Visconte di Suze.

The second disc includes, as an appendix, the numbers added for the Paris and Naples productions. Enkelejda Shkosa sings Gondì's two additional solos with rich, firm tone and sounds like she's enjoying the embellishments and cadenzas of "Son leggero, è ver," though there I'd have preferred a clean ending to the producers' fadeout. Bros is in firm, ringy voice for "Ah! così tanto affetto," in which he and Stoyanova are well-matched singing in sixths; unfortunately, he returns to sometimes fiercely pressed tone in the cabaletta, "Ah! la speme di quest'anima," added for an 1844 Naples production. spacer 

STEPHEN FRANCIS VASTA

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Current Issue: April 2014 — VOL. 78, NO. 10