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BELLINI: Beatrice di Tenda

spacer Theodossiou, Lo Monaco; Roy, Kalmandi; Orchestra and Chorus of Teatro Massimo Bellini, Catania, Pirolli. Production: 
Brockhaus. Dynamic NHK 55675 (Blu-ray), 33675 (DVD), 161 mins., subtitled


Almost from the get-go, Beatrice di Tenda was a black sheep among Bellini's operas. Prominent among the early nay-sayers was the work's illustrious librettist, Felice Romani, who, playing a blame game with the composer over its unhappy reception, pronounced the new opera a "bestialità"and provoked a rift that never healed. Bellini himself stubbornly deemed Beatrice "not unworthy of her sisters" I Capuleti e i Montecchi and Norma. Over the ensuing 180 years, the public hasn't quite concurred, and it remains by far the least performed of his fully mature operas. 

The performance at hand, captured at Bellini's hometown theater in Catania in December 2010, is unlikely to win Beatrice any converts. Director Henning Hermann Brockhaus offers an inane show that belittles Bellini at every turn. The opening scene is quick to announce the bad news: before the prelude, a handsomely tuxedoed gent (we'll soon learn he's Filippo Maria Visconti, duke of Milan; the dress throughout is modified modern) enters in agitation, which understandably escalates as, to the opening bars, what looks like a massive fireplace hood descends on his coweringly fetal form. A group of masked partygoers appears, the ladies in their willowy gelato-colored gowns indulging in the first of Emma Scialfa's risible choreographies. Filippo squeezes his way through the bark of what now, via projection, resembles a giant tree trunk; a few minutes later, it ascends to reveal Agnese, the opera's "other woman," singing center-stage a song that's supposed to be heard from a distance, and dancing a sort of slow-motion hula in a bed of blood-red flowers. A half-hour has elapsed before the nobly suffering Beatrice finally appears, the gelato girls cheering her with another vapid dance, then collapsing to the floor in time for her cavatina. (Prone and motionless, they still manage to interject the occasional "Misera!")

I'd like to think that Giuditta Pasta, for whom the role was written, sang it with moving notes more even, runs better articulated, top notes less painfully piercing than Dimitra Theodossiou's; somehow, though, the idea of the music always comes through. Similarly, her histrionic skill set is limited, her array of "expressive" arm and hand gestures just this side of ludicrous; but her old-style conviction ultimately carries the day. Her colleagues all get the job done. The lovely José Maria Lo Monaco is too loud in her opening solo — not fully her fault — but effective in Agnese's subsequent shows of jealousy and remorse. If you can put aside thoughts of the young Pavarotti (who, on the Sutherland–Bonynge recording, introduced so many of us to Orombello's music), Alejandro Roy seems good enough in this curiously underwritten role. And baritone Michele Kalmandi (Filippo) can be forgiven some aggressive high notes for his handsome voice and presence and overall command of the stage, despite the staging. Conductor Antonio Pirolli paces the score effectively, while the good choristers look bored. spacer


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