MEYERBEER Margherita D'Anjou (Luisi)
In tandem with Martina Franca’s Valle d’Itria Festival, Dynamic has produced another live double (CD and DVD, available separately) of an earlier 19th-century rarity. Meyerbeer, undertaking a kind of operatic apprenticeship in Italy on the suggestion of no less than Salieri, picked up in no time at all on the local obsession with recreating unhistorical history. His fourth Italian opera, libretto by Romani, makes fictional additions to the lives of two Wars of the Roses royals already much featured by Shakespeare – Margaret of Anjou and Richard (III).
There is another Margherita already in the catalogue – an elegant and well-prepared Opera Rara studio performance from 2002 under David Parry. But it’s valuable now to have the opportunity actually to see how this melodramma semiserio can work onstage, especially when the semiserio is courageously given full rein. Stage director Talevi uses the topos of making old royal dynasties into modern-dress fashion houses and of having several of the arias addressed as interviews to onstage reporters. Any confusions are soon made clear, while Talevi handles the idea dramatically enough to bring one closer to the actual characters as people than a mock-medieval pageant might do. A large amount of dressing-up in view helps visually with the plot’s many changes of allegiance.
The director’s one actual gloss, allowing Margherita (De Blasis) to have a nervous breakdown on the lower forestage about the final loss of her beloved tenor Lavarenne (Rositskiy) as Isaura (Petrone) sings her rondo finale about being so happy, helps to anchor the end of the work as fundamentally serious. All this ‘extra’ visual material also helps provide a credible framework for Marco Filippo Romano’s camp but caring Michele as the crossover-into-comedy character, advising on costuming and consoling the at times broken-hearted Margherita and Isaura. All these four sing bravely and well, fully into the spirit of both Meyerbeer and the staging.
As ‘apprentice’, Meyerbeer presents himself here as a keen student of Rossini in a work that runs uncannily similar to the senior composer’s slightly later Le comte Ory, itself both parody of and tribute to this style of opera. Meyerbeer’s fluency in writing for voices is already at a premium in the extended arias (and tessitura) for Lavarenne and Isaura – and at the other end of the vocal spectrum there is even a trio for three basses. Surely it’s only a lack of really memorable melodic material, and rhythmic pointing, that keeps this first international success for the composer from our stages again today. The live recording is clearly managed and the filming tracks the action closely enough without losing the feel of an arena. Fabio Luisi keeps a relaxed hand on the proceedings and, if you are prepared for one or two vocal glitches in the brave name of ‘going for it’, the performance is compelling.