DONIZETTI Rosmonda D'Inghilterra
There are plenty of Donizetti rarities for enterprising opera companies and record labels to choose from: Emilia di Liverpool, Elisabetta al castello di Kenilworth, Boris conte di Henley. All right, I may have made one of those up, but Gaetano certainly covered a lot of British history and geography in his operatic adventures. Rosmonda d’Inghilterra (1834) is based on the legend of Rosamund Clifford, Henry II’s mistress (although she is unaware of his royal status at the time). The king (Enrico) keeps his mistress tucked away near Woodstock Castle, and Donizetti’s opera, based on a pre-existing libretto by Felice Romani, focuses on what happens when Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine (Leonora) discovers and challenges her rival. Although based on historical characters, the plot isn’t remotely true, with little suggestion that Eleanor was directly responsible for Rosamund’s death – Romani and Donizetti have her wielding the knife. The opera was revived last autumn by the Fondazione Donizetti in the composer’s hometown of Bergamo, recorded for release on both CD and DVD.
The first thing to note is that Donizetti’s music is full of very good tunes, if not as consistently inspired as Lucrezia Borgia, composed a few months earlier, or Lucia di Lammermoor, which followed within two years. The title-role requires a soprano with all the coloratura agility of a Lucia. Indeed, the original Rosmonda was Fanny Tacchinardi Persiani, who went on to create the role of Lucia, and Rosmonda’s ‘Perchè non ho del vento’ was even substitued for the cavatina ‘Regnava nel silenzio cavatina’ when Donizetti made his French version of Lucia for Paris. Jessica Pratt is technically proficient with blazing tone, plus superbly controlled trills and ornamentations. Although her soprano isn’t always appealing on the ear, there are plenty of exciting interpolated high notes. Renée Fleming is in surer voice for Opera Rara, although she takes the Act 1 aria and cabaletta down a tone, unlike Pratt, who is happier in the bel canto stratosphere.
Eva Mei is a cool, steely Leonora, nearly a match for Nelly Miricioiu, but Dario Schmunck’s Enrico (a role written for the great Gilbert Duprez) is ungainly and effortful. Bruce Ford is far preferable. Nicola Ulivieri is a reliable Clifford.
Paola Rota’s production is sparse, simply a pair of sliding walls each containing a door frame to enable entrances, exits and eavesdropping opportunities. Costuming is traditional apart from the bizarre green and gold face-paints with a strip of dark eye make-up on some characters, which brings to mind Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Sebastiano Rolli conducts a breezy account of what is billed as a new critical edition by Alberto Sonzogni, based on the original score. Therefore there is no revised ending, as recorded by Opera Rara, in which Leonora gets a grand cabaletta. Here, the opera just peters out into an uncertain silence as Rosmonda dies. Given the rudimentary production values, it’s probably preferable to opt for the CD version. If your budget runs to it, though, Opera Rara’s Rosmonda still rules the bel canto roost.