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Vincenzo BELLINI (1801-1835) Bianca e Gernando (1826)
Melodrama in 2 Acts with libretto by Domenico Gilardoni.
Bianca – Silvia Dalla Benetta (soprano); Gernando – Maxim Mironov (tenor);
Carlo – Luca Dall’ Amico (bass); Filippo – Vittorio Prato (baritone)
Camerata Bach Choir, Poznań, Poland
Virtuosi Brunensis/Antonio Fogliani
rec. live Trinkhalle, Bad Wildbad, Germany, 15 & 23 July 2016 NAXOS 8.660417-18 [58:30 + 59:19]
This lesser-known work by Bellini is rarely performed so the appearance of this live recording is welcome. The background is interesting, for the opera’s opening had to be postponed and when eventually presented two years later as Bianca e Falliero we are told that the composer made sweeping changes and rewrote some of the vocal lines to suit the replacement voices. (This revised work was recorded in 2015 by the same orchestra and conductor on Naxos 8.660407-09, yet surprisingly this fact is not mentioned.)
Judging from the wide register of some of the roles heard here, it seems that Bellini’s rewriting was to suit singers having more restricted voices and might have caused his revision to be less flamboyant. This production boasts excellent international singers, not only from Italy, but from Russia and China too.
A nicely composed Preludio sets the mood for the action that follows. The opera is set in Agrigento’s ducal palace and carries a tale of secretive plots where triumph overpowers tyranny. An ambitious Filippo has imprisoned Carlo, the Duke of Agrigento. His son, Gernando, and daughter, Bianca, ignorant of their father’s fate and thinking him dead, come to court, but do not recognize each other. Filippo wants the Duke Carlo dead and thinks he can rely on an unknown soldier at court, Gernando, to carry out the task. The widowed Bianca is being wooed by the evil Filippo and she agrees to marry him, but then learns of his plot to kill her father. She joins Gernando to free him and have the tyrant, Filippo, disarmed and ousted.
Bellini makes much of the part of Gernando as this principal character is on stage for most of the opera. It is such a demanding part and this fact probably went unnoticed by the young Bellini when structuring the opera. Gernando’s Act I cavatina demonstrates the bel canto singer’s need to deliver difficult staccato phrases with extremes of vocal register. This is sung without difficulty by the Russian high tenor, Maxim Mironov; he continues to shine throughout the opera and his diction is always clear.
Bianca, Gernando’s sister, is more fortunate in not being made to undertake the same amount of stage presence. She is played by Silva Dalla Benetta, who is equally confident in her part and sings delightfully, delivering the passion expected of the rôle. Bellini excels in his writing for their charming duet, ‘No! mia suora’.
The tranquil Romanza, ‘Sorgi o padre’, is beautifully sung by Benetta and the sensitive contribution by Eloisa in its second verse (played by Mar Campo, mezzo) is lovely. We find that Filippo puts much energy into his Act II aria, sustaining momentum throughout the stirring piece. The support of other principals is strong and all work ideally as a team, particularly in the Seguito section of the Act I finale.
The enthusiastic audience encourage the on-stage energy shown in this performance. The Polish Camerata Bach choir is somewhat recessed yet give noticeably good support in the Introduzione, the powerful ‘Viva Bianca’ Act I finale and Allor, ‘che note avanza’. The fine orchestra is excellent under Antonio Fogliani and he provides a sensitive reading throughout. The recording is good, though the distant strings do not balance well with the forward-placed woodwind.
The booklet by Carmelo Neri and Reto Müller, in English and German, provides interesting accounts of the differences between this original version of the opera and the better known, Bianca e Fernando (1828) which superseded it. The inclusion of two group photos, postage-stamp size, in the booklet is pointless when a blank half page could have allowed ones of generous size to be presented and to show recognizable features.