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Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)
Il Castello Di Kenilworth, melodramma in three acts 1829.
Elisabetta, Queen of England, Jessica Pratt (soprano); Earl of Leicester, Xabier Anduaga (tenor); Amelia, his wife, Carmela Remigio (soprano); Warney, Leicester’s Equerry, Stefan Pop (tenor); Lambourne, Dario Russo, Fanny, Federica Vitali
Orchestra & Chorus of Donizetti Opera, Bergamo/Riccardo Frizza
Director, Maria Pilar Pérez Aspa
Costume Designer, Ursula Patzak. Set Designer, Angelo Sala
Lighting designer, Fiammetta Baldiserri
rec. Donizetti opera, Bergamo, Italy November/December 2018
Video Directors, Adriani Figari, Matteo Richetti
Sound Format, PCM Stereo 2.0/DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Filmed in HD 1080i60
Subtitles in Italian (original language), English, French, German, Japanese and Korean
Notes in Italian and English
DYNAMIC Blu-ray 57834 [139 min]

Donizetti didn’t really hit the operatic big-time until Anna Bolena in1830. He had enjoyed some success with Zoraida di Granata (see review) first performed at the Teatro Argentina, Rome, in January 1822 and which had helped mark him out as one of the young Italian opera composers who would vie to assume Rossini’s crown, the grand maestro having decamped to the better musical standards and financial remuneration in Paris. Early in his career, aided by the advice and patronage of his mentor Mayr, Donizetti had presented operatic works at the Teatro Nuovo and del Fondo, the minor royal Theatres of Naples, and then with his Alfredo Il Grande in 1823at the San Carlo itself. However, several of his other works were staged in those theatres in Naples before the premiere of Il castello di Kenilworth at the San Carlo on July 6th 1829. The major matter of note about this opera is that of its origins in English literature, which was to play a very important role in the composer’s later works, establishing him as the major Italian opera composer between Rossini and Verdi.

The plot of Il castello di Kenilworth involves the reputed love, or infatuation, of Elizabeth I for the Earl of Leicester, who is secretly married to Amelia Robsart who, in turn, is loved by the evil Warney, Leicester’s equerry. When a visit by Elizabeth to Kenilworth Castle, the seat of Leicester’s home and power, is announced, the earl asks Warney to secrete his wife within the dungeons and thus not lose favour with the queen. Warney is infatuated with Amelia who spurns his advances and berates her husband for his perceived cruelty in locking her up, not being aware of his relationship with Elizabeth and his desire to maintain his status with her. The two women meet with the queen, who is enraged on discovering the deceit and swears vengeance against the married couple. However, she calms down and, in the final scene forgives the husband and wife lovers in an extended scene of soprano coloratura skill (Chs. 37-39) superbly rendered in this recording by Jessica Pratt.

The staging is sparse to say the least, being an uncluttered raked square space, with covers to represent grass or whatever, except for a cage to represent the absence of Amelia, in which she is briefly shown, and a long incongruously modern table and chairs in the last act. In effect, the opera is played as a costumed concert performance. However, the costumes are the making of the performance. They are quite superb as to intention, purpose and period. They illuminate the story perfectly as the director moves the singers around expressing their intentions. This is achieved far better than in most of the concept and updated productions seen in Europe in the last twenty years or so, which are often cluttered with irrelevant cluttered furniture and effects. 

The musical side is outstanding, first from the orchestra under the baton of Riccardo Frizza, who seems to understand the idiom of the work and brings out emotional nuances as appropriate as well as supporting the soloists and chorus in an ideal manner. Of the soloists, both the principal women are simply outstanding. I first heard Jessica Pratt on her British debut at Garsington in 2010 (see review). I was convinced then that hers was a major talent, confirmed by her singing here and in other bel canto performances at the Rossini Festival in Pesaro. She is not afraid of using her body and hands along with her outstanding coloratura skills as befit the part. That visit to Garsington was for the British premiere of Rossini’s Armida, and it calls for five coloratura tenors! The British premiere followed a few months after that of the work in the USA. It says much about the spread of this genre of opera that the early works of the likes of Donizetti are now staged, often, as here, by theatres with a special history with the work or the composer. This performance was given at the annual Donizetti Festival in his hometown of Bergamo which has developed apace much as at the Rossini Festival at Pesaro where Jessica Pratt appears regularly. If Jessica Pratt is outstanding in this performance, and repertoire, she is matched as a singer and actress by Carmela Remigio as Amelia, whose ability to portray a character in various states of emotional crises is simply outstanding. I remain amazed that neither of the two sopranos in this performance is not seen regularly or at all in the major opera houses of the world along with their cinema transmissions. If the men do not match the two ladies, neither do they let the side down. Xabier Anduaga’s tenor is flexible and true enough for the demands of Leicester even if he lacks the sweeter tenorial timbre that I am sure Giovanni David, creator of the role, possessed.  I certainly would welcome hearing him live, as I would, also, the baritonal hue of Stefan Pop as the scheming Warney. Both male principals act well. Dario Russo and Federica Vitali complete the cast by maintain the high standard of the principals.

Robert J Farr

Previous review (CD): Göran Forsling

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