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Vincenzo BELLINI (1801-1835)
Beatrice di Tenda - Lyric tragedy in two acts (1833)
Filippo Maria Visconti, Duke of Milan - Michele Kalmandi (baritone); Beatrice di Tenda, his wife - Dimitra Theodossiou (soprano); Agnese Del Maino, beloved by Filippo and secretly in love with Orambello - Jose Maria Lo Monaco (mezzo); Orombello, Lord of Ventimiglia and secretly in love with Beatrice - Alejandro Roy (tenor); Anichino, friend of Orombello - Michele Mauro (tenor); Rizzardo Del Maino, Agnese’s brother and confidante of Filippo - Alfio Marletto (ten)
Chorus and Orchestra of the Teatro Massimo Bellini, Catania/Antonio Pirolli
Director, set and costume designer: Henning Hermann Brockhaus
Video Director: Eidomedia
rec. December 2010
Picture format: 16/9; Colour. NTSC All regions. Sound Format: Dolby Digital 2.0 and 5.1
Subtitles: Italian (original language), English, German, French, Spanish and Chinese
Notes and synopsis in Italian and English
Also available on Blu-Ray 55675
DYNAMIC 33675 [161:00]

Beatrice di Tenda is the ninth of the ten operas written by the short-lived Bellini. Of his last four that followed the success of I Capuleti e I Montecchi in Florence in March 1830, Beatrice di Tenda is the most neglected in performance and on record. It was premiered at the Teatro La Fenice, Venice, on 16 March 1833. This followed on from the triumph of Norma, which had opened the Carnival Season at La Scala on 26 December 1831. With Giuditta Pasta as the eponymous priestess it was performed thirty-nine times in the season and drew massive acclaim. Whilst in Milan, Bellini and Pasta attended a performance of the ballet Beatrice di Tenda at La Scala.
 
After Milan Bellini went to Palermo, his home-town, where performances of his operas were given in his honour. In the autumn he signed a contract for a new opera to be presented at La Fenice and to follow performances of Norma, which was to open the season. Both the new opera and Norma would feature Pasta. The first subject suggested by the librettist Romani did not appeal to Bellini and, rather late in the day, he persuaded his colleague to change the subject to Beatrice di Tenda. Romani was already committed to libretti for no fewer than five other composers and the verses were so slow in coming that Bellini and the impresario took legal action to speed up the poet. This didn’t help what had previously been an excellent relationship although it did accelerate the laggardly arrival so allowing the work to be squeezed in before the conclusion of the season. It was not well received by the audience. Critics viewed some of the music as a re-hash of Norma. Despite these views Beatrice di Tenda was soon performed in Milan and Naples and reached London in 1836 and New York in 1844. In all those venues it was well received. Beatrice di Tenda may not have the flowing Bellinian cantilena of Norma, or its successor, the composer’s final opera I Puritani, but it does have all his attributes and is a perfect vehicle for bel canto singing.
 
The action takes place at Binasco Castle, near Milan in 1418. As her second husband, Beatrice has married Filippo, Duke of Milan. He soon tires of her and fancies the younger Agnese who is loved by Orombello. Agnese helps Filippo to get rid of his wife by falsely accusing her of being the lover of Orombello. Under torture Orombello, who does love Beatrice, makes a false confession, which he later retracts. Filippo orders the execution of Beatrice and Orombello, but hesitates to sign the death warrant after a plea for mercy by the now repentant Agnese. The arrival of Beatrice’s supporters demanding her release hardens him and he signs the warrant. The opera ends as Beatrice is led away to her death.
 
In this production no attempt is made to represent the period of the action. Modern dress in the form of dinner jackets for the men of the chorus and male principals is the order of the day with the various ladies being very decorously dressed in a wide variety of coloured dresses. Highly coloured projections are made onto a large flown translucent tetrahedron rock-like shape that is periodically raised and lowered. Openings between the sections near the base allow entry and exit to a scene. Synchronised movements and psychedelic shapes appear during a scene for masked dancers.
 
The singing is distinctly provincial. Dimitra Theodossiou is well known in Italy in the bel canto repertoire. Her singing is melodramatic and her acting often over-theatrical with much semaphore waving of the arms. As an actress she is no match for her equally vocally variable compatriot Maria Callas with whom she is often compared. Whilst the odd note may be sour, her tone never unduly hardens and is, on the whole, satisfyingly rich. She gives her all and creates a viable and realistically acted and sung creation. As Orombello, the role sung by Pavarotti on the Decca audio recording (433 706-2), Alejandro Roy looks somewhat elderly in his mufti attire. Whilst he has the notes his tone is monochrome, grey and without much variation in amplitude. As Agnese, fancied by Filippo, Jose Maria Lo Monaco has some colour in her voice but lacks the ideal steadiness. Vocal weight, steadiness and some characterisation is found in the singing of the usurping Filippo of the baritone Michele Kalmandi who also acts the role well, particularly as he considers repealing the sentence on Beatrice before changing his mind and signing her death warrant.
 
Bellini was born in Catania on the night of 2-3 November 1801. His birth home is now a museum dedicated to his life and music. If his small home-town theatre wished to do hommage to the composer, without breaking the bank with extensive period sets and costumes and an international cast, then this performance and staging fits the bill. As far as I can ascertain the score is given complete, although I cannot see from the booklet if this is based on the original libretto as revised by Armando Gatto on the basis of the autograph score or any subsequent Critical Edition. However, allowing for end-of-act applause and credits the timing broadly relates to the Decca recording and that from Berlin included in the CD set issued by Dynamic of Bellini Complete Operas (see review) and available separately at bargain price. The latter features Lucia Alberti and Paolo Gavanelli (see detail).
 
I would also counsel that the chapter numbering in this Dynamic issue is somewhat idiosyncratic with act two numbered one to eleven after act one is numbered one to eight. It rather makes moving through the contents more complicated than need be. The Zurich staging with Edita Gruberova, which I have not seen, is still shown as being available at mid-price on TDK (see detail).
 
Robert J Farr  


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