28 Nov 2007


The little heard “Adelia, o la figlia dell’arciere” (Adelia, or the Archer’s Daughter) stands between Donizetti’s Parisian successes “La fille du regiment” and “La favorite” in the prolific composer’s oeuvre.

Commissioned for the Teatro Apollo in Rome, the over-taxed composer commuted between the two capitals, actually arriving late in the game with Act III still in his suitcase. An unscrupulous promoter over-sold the house (Donizetti had to pay a scalper for his own seat to the premiere), and the opening night (11 February 1841) turned into bedlam when frustrated ticket-holders inside and out erupted in a shouting match. Subsequent performances thankfully confirmed “Adelia’s” success.

It is telling to know that the demanding title role was composed for the lauded gifts of diva Giuseppina Strepponi. Small wonder then that the piece has languished, even in light of the flourishing bel canto revival that began with the divine “Maria.”

The story is a far-fetched, and thin-stretched tale of Duke Carlo the Bold and his archers, returning victoriously from battle. Count Oliviero is discovered sneaking out of the Duke’s bodyguard’s (Arnoldo) house, and the meddling crowd decides that his daughter Adelia there-in must have had her honor despoiled by Oliviero, and that the two are therefore ill-fated. Our heroine hopes to persuade dad otherwise, but Arnaldo denounces Oliviero to the Duke, who anyway had “other plans” for Adelia. He sentences Oliviero to death for violating women -- of lower station! (I guess violating women of his own station might only have condemned him to listening to Christina Deutekom recordings.)

But Arnoldo wisely says that killing him will not restore the family honor, so Duke acquiesces that the two marry, with intent to simply behead the groom later. The wedding prep gets interrupted by the beheadee-to-be coming in to inform Adelia of a suspicious scaffold being erected just outside. (Hmmmm, what could that be for. ..?) They dream of happy love but a letter reveals Duke’s true plans. In a convoluted twist only tolerable to die-hard bel canto fans everywhere, she decides by not marrying her love she can actually save him, but dad in turn threatens her with death if she doesn’t marry him. (Huh? Are you following this?)

But fatherly Arnoldo can’t go through with slaying his daughter and breaks down in tears, emotionally manipulating Adelia into marrying Oliviero. Fast forward: bridegroom begins to doubt the bride’s feelings since she has been acting strangely, but recalling the ol’ scaffold makes him realize she is probably having a nervous breakdown. (By now, aren’t we all?) In an Emily- Latella-“Never-Mind” moment, Duke has a sudden and wholly unmotivated change of heart, sparing Oliviero, ennobling Arnoldo (to legitimize the match), and presumably finding a buyer for a like-new, never-used scaffold. Adelia weeps. Again. This time for joy.

Okay, this pat ending is silly even for routine Donizetti. In his defense, he had tried to get Felice Romani to provide the better original ending he had previously scripted for composer Carlo Coccia, but he got no response. So, he had to use a new, less effective text from Girolamo Maria Marini. For all the quirkiness of the plot twists, however, the libretto does at least provide the means for some wonderful music.

This CD set was was apparently recorded live over six days, and it does have some limitations as well as some wonderful compensations. Overall, the reading could have greatly benefited from a stage director to pump some dramatic fire into the proceedings.

The chorus especially seems uninvolved. If these are indeed Italians, they are the most bloodless Italians I have ever encountered. Starting with the opening, they are flat dramatically, and things do not improve too much, witness the lackluster “Viva all’amor de popoli.” The lilting 6/8 opening of Act II “Sull campo dell’onor” is joyless. What’s up with that? It is a shame, since the group phrases nicely, has good diction, polished presentation, and good internal balance, albeit with a rather weak recorded presence at times. But they are usually only “correct,” when they should be willing participants in the intriguing drama.

The soloists are captured in better balance, originally a little muffled but it corrects itself soon. There is clean orchestral playing throughout, and it is well-captured. The opening Sinfonia begins as a rather rumpy- tump affair, but soon blossoms into a delightfully jaunty prelude.

An overall observation is that everyone takes a little while to really warm up, or to warm to the piece. The reading builds in fire, but it should not trip over indifferent moments along the way, disturbing the overall crescendo of the piece. The end of Act II, “Folgi alfin al sacro rito” turns flaccid when the assembled forces lose their collective and individual sparks. It cried out for far more heat from the tenor in heartfelt cries like his repeated “Adelia, mia,” and the soprano goes slightly under pitch on swelling ascending phrases. The dramatic and musical tension just plain goes out of it. But then, just as suddenly, they recoup their mission, an exposed tenor solo hits the mark, the soprano shows real fire, and they ignite the orchestra, too.

Andrea Silvestrelli brings a mature, pliable, orotund bass to Arnoldo that is perfect for the heroine’s father. He contributes beautiful legato singing throughout, with a most pleasing sense of bel canto line displayed to advantage in his initial “Siam giunti,” and especially in a great duet with his daughter in Act Two, “Ah, no, non posso.” He is also capable of powerful declamation, and commands a full stylistic understanding of what his role, and this composer, is about. He “gets it.” Maybe he could use q touch more varied color on “Va, vendetta,” but he more than compensates later. Mr. Silvestrelli is an internationally successful singer and it shows.

Michela Sburlati essays Adelia having recently debuted as Isolde. Based on this recording I would guess she has the goods for it, since she is possessed of a clear, warm, big sound, with a full middle and lower range displayed to advantage right away in her first aria “Fui preaga; ah, tu lo vedi.” Her coloratura was initially a bit labored but no more so than we have heard from such esteemed Donizettians as Caballe. Her coloratura licks by the finale are fiery and accurate. She can’t quite float the touched-upon high notes like Sills or Dessay but then who can? She is capable of a poignant and limpid line. A few strident top notes not withstanding, she has the goods. This sounds like a big voice, and big voices are not always gratefully recorded. Although I enjoyed this account, I would love to hear her in the house.

Ms. Sburlati starts off dramatically tentative (as do all), but seems inspired by Arnoldo in their duet. She really has her first star turn moment with a beautiful judged introspective aria “Ah, le nostr’anime,” laden with meaning and gorgeously voiced. Later she hurls some excellent dramatic outbursts at Arnoldo in “Ah no, non posso,” a terrific father-daughter duet that stands up favorably against any other of Donizetti’s best.

The soprano’s (and the opera’s) high point is arguably the Act II duet “Tutto di te sollecito” for Adelia and the Oliviero of David Sotgiu. The two conjure echos of the famed Pavarotti-Sutherland partnership with his clear, bright, forward-placed lyric voice, and she with her warm, full, slightly covered sound. This is very beautiful music-making indeed.

Mr. Sotgiu has a lyric tenor, purity of tone, and good squillo ping in the upper register. It is hard to believe he has already sung the heavier role of Don Carlos. I hope he stops that stuff and concentrates on Bel Canto for a bit longer as he is welcome and needed.

Dramatically, he tends to be a loner. The role does have its Big Pavarotti Moment in “Che fia di me!” and he acquits himself honorably even if he does not yet have the panache in the ornamentation of the second go-‘round of the cabaletta. This scena of course requires a star turn, and what we get from him right now is “merely” very good vocalizing. He will likely grow. It did make me realize just how much we miss a tenor with Mr. Pavarotti’s gifts.

This solo also features compelling orchestral partnership from the Haydn Orchestra of Bolzano and Trento: fine wind ensemble work, a haunting exposed clarinet solo, vibrant strings ripping off dramatic upward scales, pizzicato and bowed dramatic underpinnings, and an excellent instrumental “commentary” in the middle recitative section. Save the slack moment in the Act II finale, there is outstanding playing throughout under the baton of Gustav Kuhn. In fact, revel in their enthusiastic, infectious playing of the Act I finale, so reminiscent of early Verdi. You can just hear the Italian Polizia Marching Band waiting to take it over!

Odetta is portrayed with sympathy and a rich mezzo by Hermine Haselboeck. A bit unruly at first, she settled into even production throughout the range, and offered highly affecting singing from Act II onward. Indeed she is just lovely in the opening of Act II with the women’s chorus and Adelia who also scores with elastic phrasing and melting portamento.

The smaller roles are very well cast with baritone Giulio Mastrototaro, and tenors Xavier Rouillon and Giorgio Valenta.

While “Adelia” will likely not make you want to fore-go listening to other great stars in greater Donizetti operas, this is a welcome addition to the catalogue, and one which contains many pleasures that amply offset some minor quibbles. Listeners will also find a complete Libretto in pdf file on CD Two.

James Sohre