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Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)
Il Borgomastro di Saardam (1828 Milan version)
The Tsar – Giorgio Cauduro
Pietro Flimann – Juan Francisco Gatell
Wambett – Andrea Concetti
Marietta – Irina Dubrovskaya
Carlotta – Aya Wakizono
Leforte – Pietro Di Bianco
Ali Mahmed – Pasquale Scircoli
An officer – Alessandro Ravasio
Chorus and Orchestra Donizetti Opera / Roberto Rizzi Brignoli
rec. 2017, Teatro Sociale, Bergamo, Italy
DYNAMIC DVD 37812 [108 mins.]

Il Borgomastro di Saardam was a hit in Naples in 1827, but a failure in subsequent stagings in Rome and Milan. The opera is rather routine Donizetti, who had not yet hit his stride as a composer. But routine Donizetti is still pretty enjoyable, so enthusiasts for his other works will likely enjoy this opportunity to watch an obscure opera in a very satisfying production.

The plot is about the Russian Czar, Peter the Great. Incognito, Peter is in Saardam, studying Dutch shipbuilding techniques in in pursuit of his dream of modernizing Russia. The shipyard employs a second Russian, one Peter Flimann, who is a deserter from the Russian forces. Wambett, the mayor, searches the shipyard for a foreigner named Peter, causing Flimann to fear for his romance with Marietta, the mayor’s ward. Flimann is mistaken for the Czar and treated with dignity by an Ottoman envoy. In the end, the Czar assumes his position, exposes the Mayor’s dubious behavior toward Marietta, raises Flimann to high estate and sails off to Russia.

Il Borgomastro sits near the light end of Donizetti operas, far removed from such serious dramas as Roberto Devereux, La Favorita, or Poliuto. Musically, it moves through rather routine, formulaic numbers. But Donizetti’s formula here is the good one of imitating Rossini, and this production helps it along with contagious high spirits. The staging is rather old-fashioned, apparently set in the late nineteenth century (going by the bicycle and the Victorian dress of the women singers). Occasionally projected onto a rear-stage screen are clips from silent movies. Most seem to be Eisenstein films, especially Ivan the Terrible. No matter that Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great, and Victorian bicycles occupy different centuries, the projections help keep the momentum going even when the music seems to lag a bit.

Andrea Concetti sings Wambett, the burgomastro. This is a stock character, ridiculously pompous, and Concetti plays for laughs, occasionally reminding one of Groucho Marx with a good voice. In Giorgio Cauduro, Donizetti’s Czar is a rather pleasant fellow, however ahistorical this might be. Cauduro has a darkness in his voice which makes one suspect that he might be a good Don Giovanni. Tenor Juan Francisco Gatell as Peter Flimann is an ardent but confused lover. He is not very heroic, but sounds good in a florid duet of the two Peters. Soprano Irina Dubrovskaya has a light, thin voice that proves quite agile in the extended showpiece of her Rondo finale. The stronger ensembles bubble along nicely, including an enjoyable Act 1 trio for the burgomastro and both Peters, the Act I finale, and a nice drinking chorus in Act II.

Dynamic’s sound is excellent, as is the energetic conducting of Roberto Rizzi Brignoli.

Il Burgomastro di Saardam is yet another bel canto work that presents distant lands on the stages of the Italian bourgeoisie, which apparently had an insatiable quest for the exotic, even though they expected Dutch shipbuilders, Cromwell’s army, ancient Christians of Armenia, and Tudor courtiers all to sing like Italians. Donizetti embodied this mix of cultural curiosity and Italian self-confidence throughout his career. Recall that Donizetti’s brother, Giuseppe, was a musician in the court of the Ottomans, and the exotic is brought closer to home.

Donizetti had a particular fascination with Czars. His earliest success was Il falegname di Livonia (1819), another tale of Peter the Great. And just months before Il Borgomastro di Saardam was yet another opera with a Czar, Otto mesi in due ore ossia Gli esiliati in Siberia. Although Il Borgomastro is not a lost masterwork, it is a minor work by a master, and is worth a listen in this excellent recording, which brings out its strengths and hustles through its weaknesses. If you want a better opera of the same story, there is Albert Lortzing’s Zar und Zimmermann of 1837.
Richard Kraus

Previous reviews: Robert J. Farr (Blu-ray) and Göran Forsling (CD)

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