> Opera and Oratorio
Giannattasio, Simmonds; Bros, Tézier, Sherratt; Geoffrey Mitchell Choir, London Philharmonic, Parry. Text and translation. Opera Rara ORC45 (3)
Certain elements of this Opera Rara release — what might be called the “opera house” part of the performance — are on a very high level. The London Philharmonic, though not a period-instrument group, plays with appealing ease and vitality. The members of the Geoffrey Mitchell Choir really portray their various roles, as well as singing the notes. Conductor David Parry unfailingly sets up the expression of the vocal lines and the mood of each scene. Parry finds the right swagger for the entrance of the blustery baritone, tremendous grace for the prima donna’s ladies-in-waiting, even special verve for something as generic as a drinking chorus. The finale of Act I is Bellini at his most Rossinian (Il Pirata is an early work, from 1827, when Bellini was still sorting out his own style), and Parry controls the snowballing phrases to great effect. All of the basic elements, then, are in place for the principal singers to carry us away.
If that doesn’t quite happen, the performances are still honorable. José Bros takes the title role. His tenor is most attractive in the middle range, making the “Pietosa al padre” section of his first duet with Imogene a highlight. It was unwise of Bros to add some unwritten high Cs and Ds to his part (while skirting one high D that Bellini actually did write), but to his credit he doesn’t simplify any of the very difficult writing in the role. As Imogene, Carmen Giannattasio does many fine things. Sometimes we are left wishing that she would break free into more specific, more personal singing, and that she would carry through the last bit of the ideas that she does have. Some of the singing is effortful, even when Imogene is rising from a faint, and the duet with Ernesto gives the impression that she is at the limits of what she can do. As Ernesto, baritone Ludovic Tézier doesn’t have an easy time here either. If he gives an everyday sort of performance elsewhere, it must be noted that the character is not written as deeply as the other two roles.
The exemplary booklet essay by Benjamin Walton does a fine job of making an engaging story of the poorly documented genesis of the piece. The performance concludes with a rare outing of the original ending Bellini conceived with librettist Felice Romani in the first fruit of what was to be an important collaboration. Il Pirata was meant to end with the suicide of Gualtiero, who is supposed to stab himself on a bridge and plunge into an onstage waterfall. Prima donnas have had their own way from an early stage in performance history, and the opera has usually concluded with Imogene’s mad scene. The real ending never made it into most published scores, and it is good to have it here. Many other standard cuts are opened; there is about fifty minutes’ more music here than in the famous version Nicola Rescigno conducted for Maria Callas at Carnegie Hall in 1959. This new version would make an uncontested primary reference recording if not for the cuts and simplification allowed in the Ernesto–Imogene duet. But otherwise Bellini’s musical designs are allowed to make their intended effects, and the opera itself makes a much finer impression than it did in Rescigno’s performance or in the somewhat-less-cut production that marked the opera’s Met premiere, in 2002.
WILLIAM R. BRAUN
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