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Recordings

Gaetano Donizetti: Linda di Chamounix
21 Mar 2007

DONIZETTI: Linda di Chamounix

I am surely not the only one who doesn’t understand why this sparkling score is not performed more often.

Gaetano Donizetti: Linda di Chamounix

Edita Gruberova (Linda), Don Bernardini (Carlo), Monika Groop (Pierotto), Ettore Kim (Antonio), Stefano Palatchi (Prefetto), Anders Melander (Marchese), Ulrka Precht (Maddalene), Klas Hedlund (Intendente). Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Friedrich Haider

Nightingale Classics NC 070561-2 [3CDs]

$45.49  Click to buy

It is one of Donizetti’s best and can easily stand comparison with Bellini’s Sonnambula which has the favours of opera managers. The Donizettean melodies are tuneful, the ensembles impressive and the self-borrowing inconspicuous though for opera lovers acquainted with the same composer’s Maria Stuarda, it can be a shock to meet the impressive Elisabeth and choir scene once more at the end of the first act in Linda di Chamounix. In an interview the conductor of this set reveals the difficulties he had in setting up a concert performance while a theatrical one is almost impossible to get. The main reason seems to be the naïve libretto where the heroine becomes mad and is returned to sanity when she is reunited with her beloved (the same theme as in I Puritani which is regularly performed). I fear the real problem seems to be the sad fact that such a libretto (rich boy loves poor girl, is not allowed to marry her, she gets mad and is cured when his mama relents) doesn’t pass muster with directors as it seems to be old fashioned in their eyes (which it isn’t; think of the horror nowadays in the eyes of parents when their college educated boy would introduce a girl with elementary schooling and no money at all). As a result there are not too many Linda’s on record available and most of them are barbarously cut. Happily this set under review has only a few minor cuts; the major one a cut of only a few minutes in the second act duet between Linda and Carlo and I wonder why that one couldn’t be restored.

The cast is a good one. Indeed, it is even an excellent one though name fanciers will at first shrink back a bit as it seems a bunch of second rate singes were just rounded up to assist the prima donna in a performance on her own label. Though most of the singers didn’t make it to the big league as we can now be sure of 14 years later after the recording was made, they are all worthy performers. Take American tenor Don Bernardini. He is indeed a little bit throaty but the voice is agreeable an manly. He has a fine sense of style and is excellent in his duets where he proves he can embellish his second verses. Finish mezzo Monica Groop will be somewhat better known as an excellent Mozartean and she brings a mellifluous voice to the role of Pierotto and proves that the role is worthy of a good Dorabella. Korean baritone Ettore Kim was not 30 when he recorded his role of Antonio and the sound is attractive and very Italianate. And as he was already singing Jago and Scarpia at the time one wonders if he is not one of those many talented Korean singers who damaged their material by singing too early and too heavy. On this set his fine lyric baritone blends very well with Stefano Palatchi’s firm but charming bass and their duet is sung with elegance and panache. Of course the reason of being of the recording lies with Edita Gruberova and this seems to be one of her best ones. It is probably no coincidence that she chose Friedrich Haider to be the conductor. He is one who allows his prima donna some leeway; not objecting to some interpolated top notes and indeed encouraging her though in the essay accompanying the set he tells that some were eliminated as being not compatible with the preceding music. It is indeed remarkable that none of Gruberova’s lunges beyond high C strikes one as sorely sticking out. She clearly enjoys singing the score and brings her outstanding technique to it, trilling and embellishing wherever it is suitable and in character. Maybe the voice (on record, less in the theatre) has not enough natural vibrato and sounds a bit stiff but this may depend upon personal taste. Anyway the main hit of the opera ‘O luce di quest’anima’ is brilliantly sung and she is equally fine and convincing in the madness scene. Friedrich Haider, one of the few conductors who actually enjoys accompanying singers, brings his love for belcanto and the prima donna to the score though without overly indulging her. His baton never comes to a stand still and his tempi are chosen with a fine eye on the balance between dramatic truth and the singers wishes. [Refer to his fine performance of Roberto Devereux] As there are so few recordings of Linda di Chamounix available this is a worthy addition to the catalogue. The live performance at La Scala with Alfredo Kraus and Margherita Rinaldi is too heavily cut to be a competitor. Only the Devia-Canonici-set is a rival to the Gruberova recording and probably it will be one’s individual liking of the singers that decides which one to purchase.

Jan Neckers

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