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Reviews

<em>Adelson e Salvini</em>, Opera Rara
22 Apr 2017

Opera Rara: new recording of Bellini's Adelson e Salvini

In May 2016, Opera Rara gave Bellini aficionados a treat when they gave a concert performance of Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, at the Barbican Hall. The preceding week had been spent in the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios, and this recording, released last month, is a very welcome addition to Opera Rara’s bel canto catalogue.

Adelson e Salvini, Opera Rara

A review by Claire Seymour

 

Adelson e Salvini was the 24-year-old Bellini’s ‘graduation piece’, written in 1825 for the Real Collegio di Musica di San Sebastiano in Naples. Either the student singers at Bellini’s disposal were remarkably talented, or the young composer was intent on showing off his own prowess and the singers could do or die!

My review of Opera Rara’s concert performance contained a fairly lengthy account of the work’s origins, fortunes and revisions, as well as the literary source and plot. So, suffice it to say here that Andrea Leone Tottola’s libretto, set in seventeenth-century Ireland, unfolds as a somewhat disjointed series of scenes of melodramatic scuffles, infernos and emotional volte faces, in which Lord Adelson and the Italian painter Salvini are rivals for the heart of Nelly, the niece of the vengeful Colonel Struley. There is melodrama and incredulity aplenty: in a struggle to prevent Nelly being abducted by her uncle, Salvini fears he has killed his beloved and threatens to commit suicide; but, learning she is alive - and after several fake letters have add further convolution - Adelson ultimately marries Nelly, as Salvini renounces his love and promises to return after a year to claim his young pupil Fanny as his bride.

There is little of the prototype Sonnambula-limpidity evident in the student Bellini’s nascent musical arsenal, but Rossini’s fingerprints make a deep imprint, most impressionably in the music written for Salvini’s comic servant, Bonifacio, who makes his entrance with a Rossini patter aria - accompanied by a nonchalant flute which makes a paradoxically insouciant foil for the Figaro-esque bluster of the aggrieved, put-upon Bonifacio. Bass-baritone Maurizio Muraro makes much of the text and a strong musical personality emerges, but occasionally the pitch strays from dead-centre.

Muraro himself makes a good counterpart for Enea Scala’s over-wrought and initially vocally tense Salvini; as the latter begs ‘beguiling hope’ to abandon his heart, it’s hard to disagree with his servant’s conclusion that his master is ‘really off his head’ and ‘belongs in the madhouse’. Perhaps Salvini’s vapidity and vulnerability are the inevitable outcome of the ‘insane’ cabaletta which Bellini gives the tenor, before he’s had time to warm up his vocal cords, comprising twenty-six high Cs, four Ds, and a top E. The stratospheric ascents have more elegance than Scala can muster, but it’s understandable and forgivable that he sounds strained at times, and once he’s hit the targets, Scala reveals a polished technique and pleasing tone. His would-be grave-bound avowal of love for Nelly is heartbreakingly sincere, and is complemented by the poignancy of the oboe’s lyrical commentary and the urgency of the Opera Rara Chorus (directed by Eamonn Dougan).

Salvini’s Act 2 duet, ‘Torna, o caro, a questo seno', with Simone Alberghini’s patrician-toned Adelson is beautifully enriched by some lovely horn and woodwind playing while Scala’s more relaxed tenor whips slickly but ardently through the cascades of split loyalties; both singers exhibit tenderness in the passages in seductive thirds and sixths, forming a gentle blend. This number throbs with emotions unspoken, misinterpreted and misunderstood. And, if elsewhere Alberghini doesn’t consistently display the technical assurance, accuracy and nimbleness of his colleagues, his is a convincing contribution to the drama.

The opera was performed originally by an all-male cast, even though there are three female roles, and one wonders who sang Nelly’s romanza ‘Dopo l'oscuro nembo’ (later reshaped into Giulietta’s ‘Oh quante volte’ in I Capuleti e iMontecchi), and how. For, the melodic voluptuousness of this number is a beguiling intimation of where the ‘Swan of Catania’ was heading. The pathetic instrumental prelude passes slithering motifs from the depths of the bass to the heights of the woodwind, before pizzicato strings hook the sentiment and lead into the aria proper. Perhaps bel canto patterns inevitably lead one to make connections, but there seem to me to be more than a few foreshadowings - in the harmonic progressions and melodic sighs - of ‘Una furtiva lagrima’. Daniela Barcellona is able to hold back the full power of her mezzo, prioritising elegant elaboration over vocal emoting, while using her rich tone to convey Nelly’s romantic agonies.

David Soar’s Geronio impressed me at the Barbican Hall and continues to do so on this recording: he offers dark colour to the lighter toned Colonel Struley of Russian baritone Rodion Pogossov - who still brings some heft to the role - and the duet with which the dishonourable duo open Act 2 is engagingly characterised, with some strong string pizzicato adding extra parodic fierceness and bite. Mezzo-sopranos Kathryn Rudge (Fanny) and Leah-Marian Jones (Madam Rivers) complete the accomplished cast. The recitative is well-delivered, and given that most of the cast are native Italians, dialogue director Daniel Dooner must have had a fairly easy task.

Daniele Rustioni shows off his bel canto credentials, conducting with unflagging alertness to every dramatic and lyrical detail. The Sinfonia is typical: a weighty orchestral sound, supported by a strong bass, from which, by turns, punchy and poignant woodwind themes and, here, a cello solo emerge with clarity: somehow Rustioni combines power and translucence. We can hear Bellini’s drama, restlessness and redolent emotion. If occasionally a withdrawal of the sound seems to owe more to the engineers than to Rustioni’s interpretative dynamics, this is a very minor quibble.

The glossy accompanying booklet contains a detailed and informative essay, ‘Bellini’s Full Opera’, by Benjamin Walton; an account by co-editor Fabrizio Della Setta of the new critical edition which was prepared for this Opera Rara performance and recording; a synopsis in English, French, German and Italian; and, a full Italian libretto with English translation, the spoken text usefully differentiated by coloured ink.

This is another welcome Opera Rara addition to the forgotten repertory of the nineteenth century, and the company’s forthcoming plans are exciting.

Claire Seymour

Vincenzo Bellini: Adelson e Salvini, opera in 3 acts (1825)
Opera Rara ORC56 [CD: 73:11; 79:52]

Lord Adelson - Simone Alberghini; Nelly - Daniela Barcellona, Salvini - Enea Scala, Bonifacio - Maurizio Muraro, Colonel Struley - Rodion Pogossov, Geronio - David Soar, Madama Rivers - Leah-Marian Jones, Fanny - Kathryn Rudge; conductor - Daniele Rustioni, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Opera Rara Chorus (chorus director - Eamonn Dougan)

Recorded in May 2016, BBC Maida Vale Studios, London.

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