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Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)
La favorite [148:42]
Léonor de Guzman:Veronica Simeoni (sop); Fernand:Celso Albelo (ten); Alphonse XI: Mattia Olivieri (bar); Balthazar: Ugo Guagliardo (bass); Don Gaspar: Manuel Amati (ten); Inès: Francesca Longari (sop); Un Seigneur: Leonardo Sgroi (ten)
Orchestra & Chorus of the Opera di Firenze Maggio Musicale Fiorentino/ Fabio Luisi
rec. live, February 2018, Florence, Italy
DYNAMIC DVD 37822 [2 DVDs: 156 mins] Blu-ray 57822 [156 mins] CDS7822.02 [72:36 + 76:16]

I have been able to view both the DVD and Blu-ray issues of this new recording and listen to the CD audio version.

First, credit to Dynamic for providing notes, synopsis and photographs of the mostly attractive young singers here and, in the case of the CD set, a libretto in French and English. Sadly, the subtitles or text might be needed, as the French accents from the all-Italian cast here are mostly poor; even with today’s conservatory-trained singers, so few Italians seem to be able to replicate authentic Gallic vowels, the most prominent offenders being the French “e” in words such as “me”, which some singers here persist in pronouncing in Italianate fashion as “meh” and sounding the last consonant in words like “mon”.

Even though it was first performed in French in Paris in 1840 and was a staple, usually sung in French, until the turn of the century, most opera-lovers will know this in its Italian translation, and probably via the 1974 recording starring Pavarotti, Cossotto and Bacquier. The most notable recording in French hitherto is the studio account from RCA in 1999, starring Kasarova, Vargas and Michaels-Moore, and it has to be said that this latest live release hardly supersedes that, even though both preceding recordings are rather low-key – perhaps as much the fault of the music itself as the performers, as, despite the enduring appeal of some set pieces, perhaps as the result of its having been assembled from remnants of the abandoned Le Duc d'Albe and L'ange de Nisida, it is not the most consistently absorbing of Donizetti’s operas. The music has some over-repeated ear-worm themes and duets such as that in track 9, CD 1, simply outstay their welcome.

Why Dynamic thought this performance was worth issuing in three different formats is puzzling. If the singing is not up to standard, then the visual dimension is hardly likely to distract or compensate for this and I’m afraid I find it provincial. The first two voices we hear are uningratiating: the tenor – who seems to have a claque of fans in the audience – is windy and sings at a monotonous, forced mezzo-forte except when he suddenly applies a ppp pulled out of nowhere; the bass is gravelly. The Inès is acidic-toned and the Léonor wobbly and undistinguished of tone. Some vocal and linguistic relief is provided by the baritone Mattia Olivieri, who is by far the best singer here; he has a pleasant. light timbre with an attractive fast vibrato and even a trill, but we revert to mediocrity with a nasal Don Gaspar. The conducting is serviceable, the orchestral playing admirable and the choral singing fine – and there are good spots, like the rousing conclusion to Act 2, but there isn’t much here for the bel canto enthusiast to become enthused about.

The lack of vocal allure is all the more regrettable, given that the visual presentation in the DVD and Blu-ray formats is excellent: the simple, rock-face sets are striking, the traditional, medieval-style costumes are handsome and the acting credible, even if a warrior-hero tenor carrying a certain embonpoint is always a challenge to dramatic verisimilitude. However, there is no compelling reason to desert the aforementioned French and Italian recordings for this one, unless you favour visual appeal over musical excellence.

Ralph Moore

Previous review (Blu-ray): Robert Farr

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