This is the first time that a complete edition of Bellini's operas is released. The box includes an essay by Friedrich Lippmann, one of the world's most eminent scholars of the Sicilian composer, who in 2007 was awarded the international Galileo Galilei prize by the Italian Rotary Club for his contribution to the dissemination of Italian music in the world.
In his latest Decca DVD release, bel canto star Juan Diego Flórez undertakes the role of Elvino in Bellini’s romantic drama, playing opposite the mercurial French soprano, Natalie Dessay, in the Met’s striking, modern-dress production from March 2009. Bellini’s romantic opera La Sonnambula (1831), hinges on the love and misunderstanding between Elvino and Amina (the ‘sleepwalker’ of the title). Discovered in the bedroom of Rodolfo, Amina is assumed to have been unfaithful, and Elvino cancels their wedding. But in the dramatic final scene, he witnesses Amina sleepwalking, understands her innocence, and all ends happily. Mary Zimmerman’s production plays with the dual realities of a rehearsal of the opera and a performance of the opera itself.
For one of Bellini's less popular works, I Capuleti has seen a remarkable number of recordings, with some of the starriest stars in the operatic firmament taking part. A self-recommending and self-damning bastardized version from the 1960s in which the role of Romeo was transposed from mezzo to tenor (by Claudio Abbado) can still be found with Giacomo Aragall as Romeo, Renata Scotto (or Margarita Rinaldi, in another pirate) as Giulietta, and Luciano Pavarotti as Tebaldo. Muti's set with Gruberova and Baltsa manages to be both exciting and sterile at the same time, a couple of other entries have come and gone (where is the Sills?), and the only competition for this current release is RCA's with the marvelous, expressive Vesalina Kasarova as Romeo and the pretty, fragile Giulietta of Eva Mei. But for my ears, this one, handsomely led by Donald Runnicles, takes the lead.
This tragicomedy was apparently the greatest success of Giovanni Paisiello’s career, some claim considering that he wrote around 90 operas and that his Barbiere di Siviglia both inspired Mozart to produce Le nozze di Figaro as a sequel and caused later audiences to criticise Rossini for daring to tackle the same subject. Although Paisiello (1740-1816) is interesting enough to deserve some attention today, his musical accomplishments are more reminiscent of Cimarosa than anyone else. He did, however, enjoy a colourful life, and served European rulers as diverse as Catherine the Great and Napoleon. When Nina was first performed at La Scala, the title role was taken by none other than Floria Tosca, the singer who was later to inspire Sardou and Puccini.
Cimarosa was an expert at writing lighthearted opera buffa that zipped along. Much of this music sounds very much like his better known IL Matrimonio Segreto, coming clearly out of the same stable, but it has its distinctive elements. Here the forces of the Festival Valle D'Itria come up with a sparkling production. The singing and the orchestra come across as excellent, the conductor Eric Hull keeping things moving with a light touch that keeps it all together. The singers keep the music zipping along, and when it turns more serious, Alla Simonischvili, the lead soprano, and the others handle it well. Well recorded, especially considering that apparently we have some sort of mixture of only two straight-through live performances, and well performed this set offers a good deal of pleasure.(John Cragg)
Giuseppe Patanè was a leading conductor of the middle years of the 20th century, particularly well known for his work in opera. His father was also a conductor, Franco Patanè (1908-1968), who introduced his son to music. Giuseppe studied piano and conducting at the Conservatorio San Pietro à Majella in Naples. While there, he was chosen at the age of 19 to conduct a performance of La Traviata at the Teatro Mercadante in Naples.
By 1981, when this production was taped for Canadian television, Joan Sutherland's voice was unquestionably past its prime. But even in its decline, that voice remained something quite special, and the role of the troubled Druid priestess Norma was one of her specialties. A substantial advantage in this recording is the presence at the podium of her husband and coach, Richard Bonynge, who had a deep understanding of the strengths and limitations of her voice and stage persona. His pacing and balance give the voice opportunities to challenge, at least momentarily, the ravages of time. Lotfi Mansouri, one of the great operatic entrepreneurs of the late 20th century, assembled a first-class supporting cast for Sutherland–most notably Tatiana Troyanos, to whose memory this video is dedicated. The performance of Troyanos in the role of the younger and equally troubled priestess Adalgisa is outstanding and would make this disc worth having even without its documentation of Sutherland. As far as it is possible to determine, this is the only video opera appearance of tenor Francisco Ortiz. On the basis of his performance as the Roman officer Pollione, he seems to have deserved more attention. Bass Justino Diaz gives a sterling performance as the old Druid Oroveso. (Joe McLellan)