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Vincenzo BELLINI (1801 – 1835) Bianca e Gernando (1826)
Bianca – Silvia Dalla Benetta (soprano)
Gernando – Maxim Mironov (tenor)
Carlo – Luca Dall’Amico (bass)
Filippo – Vittorio Prato (baritone)
Clemente – Zong Shi (bass)
Viscardo – Marina Viotti (mezzo-soprano)
Uggero – Gheorghe Vlad (tenor)
Eloisa – Mar Campo (mezzo-soprano)
Camerata Bach Choir, Poznan, Virtuosi Brunensis/Antonino Fogliani
Rec in concert at the Trinkhalle, Bad Wildbad, Germany, 15 and 23 July 2016
Original version. World Premiere Recording NAXOS 8.660417-18 [58:30 + 59:19]
Set in Agrigento, Sicily, in the late 14th century, Filippo has imprisoned Carlo and usurped the throne. Carlo’s son Gernando, though only a child, was forced to flee abroad, and Carlo’s daughter Bianca, a widow, has agreed to marry Filippo, not knowing about his deeds. The grown up Gernando returns home to take revenge for his father, whom he thinks is dead. Under false name, and pretending to be an officer, he offers Filippo his services and lets him know that he had seen Gernando being killed. Bianca arrives to meet her bridegroom-to-be, she doesn’t recognise her brother and distrusts him, while Gernando believes that she takes side with Filippo.
In the second act Filippo orders Gernando to kill Carlo and informs him that he is going to marry Bianca. Gernando’s old henchman Clemente arranges that Bianca and Gernando meet. Gernando informs her about Filippo’s plan to kill Carlo and together they go to the prison to liberate Carlo. Filippo threatens to kill Bianca’s son if Gernando doesn’t give in, but Clemente disarms Filippo and Carlo can resume the throne.
That’s a thumb-nail summary of the plot in Vincenzo Bellini’s first professional opera, premiered at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples on 30 May 1826, and here receiving its first production and recording in modern time, having hitherto been replaced by the revision Bellini made two years later for Genoa, then titled Bianca e Fernando. This was also the original title of the first version, but Bellini wasn’t allowed to use Fernando, since that was also the name of the then recently deceased King of the two Sicilies.
Bellini’s revision wasn’t too radical: he added an overture, he wrote some new cabalettas, he changed the end of the opera and made a few further changes but basically it is the same work. Bellini was only 25 when he composed Bianca e Gernando, but he had already found his model and there is a lot that points forward to his later operas. In fact he had only nine more years to live. Several of the arias are fully comparable to his better known works, Gernando’s and Filippo’s cavatinas in the first act, for instance (CD 1 tr. 2 & tr. 4). In the finale of the act Bianca also has a long solo with chorus (CD 1 tr. 10), and in the second act there are a couple of excellent duets. The lively chorus that opens the act I finale, with trumpet introduction, is exciting and one can savour Bellini’s sensitive use of instrumental solos in several places. The long clarinet intro to Bianca’s and Eloisa’s scene e romanza (CD 2 tr. 3) is one example, the combination harp and oboe a little later is another and before Carlo sings his cavatina (CD 2 tr. 8) a solo flute plays an introduction.
The singing is a bit variable. Carlo and Clemente are sung by powerful but rather gravelly basses, but the three central characters are good. Vittorio Prato as the evil Filippo sports a virile baritone voice with authority and brilliant top notes. Silvia Dalla Benetta as Bianca has an agreeable lyric soprano voice. Sometimes her vibrato is a little wider than ideally, but she is expressive and nuanced. But the real star of this performance is the excellent bel canto tenor Maxim Mironov. I have hailed him previously in recordings of Rossini’s Il viaggio a Reims and Otello and his smooth, beautiful, nuanced and technically fluent singing throughout this performance is really great. His cavatina in the first act is met with ovations after a generously held final note and in the duet with Bianca in the second act (CD 2 tr. 6) he also demonstrates his dramatic abilities.
Recorded live there are as usual some intrusive noises and the balance is sometimes a bit uneven, but with good playing and singing from the chorus and orchestra and with sensible tempos chosen by the experienced Antonino Fogliani, this is still a more than acceptable reading – and historically interesting as the first recording of Bellini’s primordial thoughts. In the bargain you get some excellent singing from the three main characters.
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