Vittorio Grigolo purposely waited to record his first operatic solo album until he had something unique to communicate in the repertoire and has chosen arias representing the culture I come from. THE ITALIAN TENOR presents music from three giants of the lyric stage Gaetano Donizetti, Giuseppe Verdi and Giacomo Puccini and combines famous arias with lesser-known discoveries. The album was recorded in the Teatro, Regio di Parma with the resident orchestra and conductor Pier Giorgio Morandi.Donizetti's Una furtiva lagrima (L'Elisir d'Amore) has been a litmus test of the Italian tenor since the days of Enrico Caruso, whose famous performance of the aria paved the way for the opera's return to the repertoire after years of neglect. Equally beautiful is Spirto gentil (La Favorita) in which the lead character laments the loss of his love forever.
Roberto Devereux stands as one of Donizetti's greatest achievements in dramatic opera, the other two being Lucrezia Borgia and Lucia di Lammermoor (in my realm of judgment). Like most lovers of bel canto and Donizetti, I'm led into this foray of musical richness through Lucia; which though a great opera, has been largely overperformed at the expense of his greater operas like Devereux and Borgia. Not venturing to extoll the relative merits of the operas mentioned here, I shall focus my review on this recording of Donizetti's seminal opera.
On New Year’s Eve 2012 Joyce DiDonato became the first singer to take the title role in Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda at New York’s Metropolitan Opera. With her at its heart, the production became, in the words of Opera magazine, “a high point of the season and of the company’s performance history of bel canto operas”.
This opera becomes a battle of the divas in its great second act, with Sutherland, as Mary Stuart, pitted against the jealous, paranoid, and vengeful Elizabeth I (Tourangeau). There is an intensely dramatic confrontation in which insults are violently exchanged between the powerful monarch and her imprisoned but still regal rival to the throne. Mary wins the battle of insults, but this is a dangerous victory over one who has the power of life and death. Elizabeth orders Mary's execution and Act III becomes a spectacle of pathos and horror. Sutherland's usual style is more attuned to pathos than to the swapping of insults, but she rises splendidly to the challenges of Act II and she has a splendid supporting cast. (Joe McLellan)
“Sutherland is in her element here - and what a wonderful score it is too…Horne has the odd moment of unsteadiness in the early parts of the opera, but she is impressive in the brilliant Brindisi of the last Act” (The Penguin Guide)
Belisario is, quite simply, one of Donizetti’s finest achievements. Dating from the high watermark of Donizetti’s maturity, with its premiere in 1836 (the year after the debut of Maria Stuarda in Milan and Lucia di Lammermoor in Naples), Belisario proved a triumph on stages throughout the 19th century. Yet, incredibly, it is little known today. The libretto, by Salvadore Cammarano (who collaborated with Donizetti on Lucia di Lammermoor), tells the moving and typically complicated story of the 6th century Byzantine general. Falsely accused by his wife, Antonina, of killing their son, he was blinded and exiled as his punishment. Only the recognition by his daughter, Irene, that her father’s former captive, Alamiro, was her long-lost brother restores Belisario’s reputation; tragically, too late to save his life.
How this opera grows in the affections. And how it strengthens the larger, ever-deepening appreciation not merely of Donizetti's work but of operatic conventions as such. I mean that the frequently derided forms of opera (the set pieces, aria-and-cabaletta and so forth) can increasingly be a source of pleasure and of perceived power in the writing. Here, for instance, part of the exhilaration arises out of the composer's skill in suiting the conventions to his dramatic and musical purposes. Elizabeth's first aria, meditatively hopeful yet anxious, fits the lyric-cantabile form; then the arrival of Talbot and Cecil with their opposing influences provokes the intensified turbulence of irresolution that makes dramatic sense out of the cabaletta. It is so with the duets and ensembles: they look like conventional set-pieces, but established form and specific material have been so well fitted that, with the musical inspiration working strongly (as it is here), you have opera not in its naive stage awaiting development towards freedom from form but, on the contrary, opera at the confident height of a period in its history when it was entirely true to itself.
This studio recording was made in 1989 coinciding with a memorable production from the Metropolitan Opera, later captured on DVD. It's a delightful performance, and a wonderful highlight of Pavarotti's later career. Kathleen Battle's sparkling soprano is a brilliant accompaniment to Pavarotti's still-ringing tone.
"Pavarotti's voice was still beautiful and pliable, his phrasing exquisite. And he loved the role of Nemorino and always seemed happy with both its comedy and pathos–he steals every scene he's in, and no one minds…Kathleen Battle sings Adina with perfect, pearl-like tone, absolute fluency and commitment, and a trill to die for…Enzo Dara is an ideal Dulcamara, just the right combination of huckster and sentimentalist, with ease in every register and with fast music."
– Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com