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DONIZETTI: Maria di Rohan

DVD Button Cullagh; Cordella, Menini, Di Felice; Orchestra and Chorus of Bergamo Music Festival Gaetano Donizetti, Kunde. Production: Recchia. Bongiovanni AB 20028 (DVD), 120 mins., subtitled

Recordings Maria di Rohan Cover 216

DONIZETTI'S TAUT, TENSE  melodramma tragico of 1843 makes its DVD debut in a performance from October 2011 at his namesake theater in his hometown, Bergamo. If the provenance suggests something special, something akin to what Pesaro and its annual Rossini Festival offer that town’s favorite son, think again: this is a Maria di Rohan distinguished by little other than being the first on video. It’s good enough to affirm the opera’s many merits, but it never really takes off.

The work had its premiere in Vienna midway through a remarkable creative year—the last fully active one of Donizetti’s career—that began and ended in Paris, with Don Pasquale in January and Dom Sébastien and a revised Maria di Rohan in mid-November. Bongiovanni offers the original Vienna version, augmented by the Act III cabaletta Donizetti added for Giulia Grisi in Paris. The plot, lifted by Salvatore Cammarano from a French play, mixes a Ballo in Maschera-style love triangle (a wife, her husband, his friend, all rooted in history) with a trio of duels and the political intrigue of the court of Louis XIII and Cardinal Richelieu. It has plenty of twists and turns, but Roberto Recchia’s production tells it clearly and without fuss, within Angelo Sala’s simple set of a tilted picture frame half-buried in a sea of cellophane, and with costumes handsomely in period. Claudio Schmid’s lighting, however, doesn’t much flatter the performers; neither does Bongiovanni’s edgy sound.

Majella Cullagh is Bergamo’s Maria, and true to the whole production, she’s adequate without being especially good. Years of singing bel canto in Opera Rara productions and under conductors such as Richard Bonynge have given her a sturdy sense of style, but her voice is shallow and glaring, with a stingy palette. She scales it down effectively for a nice “Havvi un dio” in Act III, but she’s still a long way from Caballé. She’s a wooden actress, too, who brings scant fire to this real-life femme fatale. 

Tenor Salvatore Cordella, who has stepped into three Donizetti roles for ailing colleagues at the Met, has a solid grasp of style and a pleasant piano. But at forte his tone is hard and overbright, with a stressful top. Marco di Felice, on the other hand, is quite enjoyable as the betrayed husband and friend, with a burly baritone well suited to a role written for Giorgio Ronconi, who a year earlier had been Verdi’s first Nabucco. Di Felice is animated, and so is Domenico Menini in his brief appearance as the jealous Gondi, a role Donizetti switched from tenor to trousered contralto—and significantly amplified—for Paris. There’s a surprising presence in the pit—tenor Gregory Kunde, here making his first appearance as an opera conductor and leading the show with assurance. At curtain call, he reaps the evening’s most enthusiastic ovation.  —Patrick Dillon 

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