BELLINI Adelson e Salvini
Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera Adelson e Salvini is a real rarity – so the perfect candidate for an Opera Rara resurrection. As the equivalent of ‘head boy’ at Naples Conservatory, Bellini was invited to compose a graduation opera, staged in 1825. Using an existing libretto by Andre Leone Tottola, it’s a melodramatic tale set in 18th-century Ireland of Lord Adelson and his friendship with a neurotic Italian painter, Salvini, who has fallen in love with Adelson’s fiancée, the virtuous Nelly. Throw in a dastardly uncle, Colonel Struley, who is plotting to kidnap Nelly to prevent the wedding, plus Bonifacio – Bellini’s only comic role, performed in Neapolitan dialect – and you have a quirky piece.
At the premiere, the three female roles were taken by male altos from the conservatory, with Nelly sung by 14-year-old Giacinto Marras. As a result, it’s the male leads which are better developed. There’s evidence that Bellini wanted to restage the opera, and revisions and additions are included as four appendices here. Adelson wasn’t put on again until 1985 but the original orchestral parts weren’t found until 2001, so anyone vaguely familiar with Nuova Era’s unsatisfactory 1992 live recording will hear several differences.
Following the Rossinian model, Bellini pilfered the best bits for use in later operas. The Overture is basically that later used for Il pirata, while Nelly’s aria ‘Dopo l’oscuro nembo’, which crops up on a number of recital discs, was later transposed for soprano as ‘O quante volte’ in I Capuleti e i Montecchi. Young Italian conductor Daniele Rustioni is a convincing advocate for the score, directing an urgent account from the BBC Symphony Orchestra to inject maximum drama.
The singing is impressive, with a few caveats. Enea Scala, a light tenor with a touch of metal at the top, does a terrific job as the temperamental artist, Salvini, especially in the fine Act 3 aria with chorus. Stylish baritone Rodion Pogossov has a nice bite to the voice as the wicked Struley and Maurizio Muraro enjoys himself enormously as the Rossinian buffo character, Bonifacio. Adelson’s appearance is delayed until the Act 1 finale, where the florid coloratura challenges the soft-grained bass-baritone Simone Alberghini. Daniela Barcellona’s mezzo becomes tremulous as she heads up the stave, but registers emotion well as Nelly.
The mix of vocal numbers and clunky dialogue – given in very pointed thespian delivery – make following the libretto in Opera Rara’s excellent booklet essential.