Vincenzo Bellini’s third opera, Il pirata, marked an important step in his career. Not only was it the 27 year old’s first score for the brand leader of Italian opera houses, La Scala, Milan, it also represented his first collaboration with Felice Romani, the leading librettist of the day, who was to become his regular artistic partner. Based (via a French translation) on an English play by the Anglo-Irish Gothic writer Charles Maturin, Il pirata describes how Gualtiero (José Bros) is shipwrecked during a storm on the Sicilian coast, where his former love, Imogene, (Carmen Giannattasio) has been forced into an unwilling marriage by Ernesto, the local duke (Ludovic Tézier). Tensions build between the three until Gualtiero kills Ernesto in a duel, causing Imogene to go mad with guilt. David Parry conducts this exceptional example of early romantic opera at its most dramatically potent.
In Vincenzo Bellini’s last opera, Elvira’s love for Arturo overcomes the power games in Puritan England, staged with darkly dramatic flair by Francisco Negrin as a world of blind dogma. Mariola Cantarero is compelling as the heroine on the verge of insanity in one of the greatest mad scenes in the history of opera. One of the leading lyric tenors today, John Osborn sings Arturo with fearless commitment and some spectacular top notes. In the pit is the bel canto specialist Giuliano Carella.
Bellini’s penultimate opera – written for La Fenice, Venice, in 1833 – has never enjoyed the popularity of such works as La sonnambula, Norma and I puritani. Listening to this vintage Joan Sutherland recording dating from 1966, it is hard to fathom why. The story is strong and stirring – a sort of cross between Maria Stuarda and La Gioconda – and offers fine roles for the wronged titular heroine, her villainous husband Filippo, her platonic admirer Orombello and his would-be mistress, Agnese del Maino (a Princess Eboli avant la lettre). How odd that Sutherland never managed to persuade Covent Garden to mount it for her, especially with this glorious cast. The Decca set is historic because it offered the legendary Sutherland/Pavarotti collaboration for the first time on disc. Luciano is wonderfully stylish here, elegant and ringing: Nureyev, vocally-speaking, to Sutherland’s Fonteyn. La Stupenda was going through one of her ‘moony’, muddy-diction phases, but the vocalism is quite dazzling. It’s a joy to encounter Josephine Veasey in her only commercially recorded Italian role: velvet-toned, shining, she is Sutherland’s most lustrous mezzo rival in any bel canto recording. (BBC MUSIC MAGAZINE)
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)
In collaboration with Giovanni Antonini, Riccardo Minasi and Maurizio Biondi, Cecilia Bartoli restores the sound and spirit of Norma in a landmark Decca recording based on the opera’s original sources. Cecilia Bartoli leads a fabulous cast in Decca’s groundbreaking new recording, which presents Vincenzo Bellini’s Norma in a form that is complete with the exquisite mix of vocal and instrumental colours that Bellini intended for his ‘tragic opera’.
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