Donizetti's Rosmonda d'Inghilterra
Donizetti Festival, Bergamo, November 23 - 27, 2016
Photographs by Rota Gianfranco, courtesy of the Fondazione Donizetti
Alan Jackson saw the performance on November 25 & 27 at the Teatro Donizetti, Bergamo and has contributed the following.
First performed in Florence in 1834, Rosmonda is very nearly top-drawer Donizetti and it received a generally fine performance. Rosmonda herself is the mistress of Enrico (Henry II of England) though she doesn’t know his identity and that he is married to Leonora (Eleanor of Aquitaine). Rosmonda’s father, Clifford, learns that Enrico has a mistress and upbraids the king for his infidelity to Leonora. When he then learns that this mistress is his own daughter he is even less pleased. He tells Rosmonda the bad news and she immediately vows to break off the relationship despite Enrico’s promise of the throne. Clifford makes her agree to leave England and marry Arturo, the page who guards her in her tower and who has fallen in love with her. But before this can happen, the jealous Leonora intervenes and stabs her to death. Curtain. The characters, Arturo apart, are historical; the plot however is no more accurate than Maria Stuarda.
There are fine arias and powerful duets. The sequence of numbers that opens the opera is daring in its continuity without pauses for applause. The Act I finale boasts a typically imposing concertato which is followed by a superb stretta. The opera has been criticised for a lack of ensembles, though in fact Lucia doesn’t have more. What Lucia does have, and Rosmonda lacks, is a series of instantly memorable tunes, apart from Rosmonda’s opening aria and the third theme of the sinfonia’s allegro – a few seconds to trigger compulsive foot-tapping. There is also a problem with the very end of the opera. Originally it ended with Rosmonda’s death in the tempo di mezzo of a final duet for the two women. In 1837 Donizetti revised the score (though this revision was not staged) adding amongst other changes a fine cabaletta for Leonora. This Bergamo performance omitted that cabaletta and what we were left with was a non-ending. The performance simply stopped without (to my ears) either Leonora’s line “Sono al fine vendicata … trema, Enrico! Io regno ancor” (printed in the programme’s libretto) or reaching a final musical cadence. The lights went out and at the Friday performance the person who started to applaud was shushed by others who clearly still thought there was more to come!
For a few minutes I feared the worst of the production by director Paula Rota, as the chorus entered bearing rifles and wearing dark grey suits – nothing 12th century here. To accompany Enrico’s entrance they sported umbrellas – perhaps a comment on British weather, though on the Friday Bergamo received its own deluge. Happily that was the end of the directorial tics and the chorus movement, though stylised, effectively suggested the claustrophobic atmosphere surrounding the heroine and a culture of spying that I could easily be persuaded was historically accurate. The principals were costumed in period; I’m not an expert so maybe not the right period, but “traditional” and with one exception convincing. Sets were minimalist: movable black walls with doors and no suggestion of the outdoors. But bringing them closer together did suggest an imprisoning tower for the heroine, and they sufficed throughout. What I missed was any sense of detailed directorial input to the singers’ acting. They seemed to be left pretty much to their own devices. When Rosmonda hears that Enrico is married and then a few moments later is told he is actually the king her reactions were strangely muted.
Vocally standards were mainly high. Jessica Pratt, the eponymous heroine, has most of what is needed for these bel canto heroines. I don’t find the voice particularly beautiful in itself, but she commands a long line, despatches coloratura effectively and can trill – a necessary attribute in a role written for Fanny Tacchinardi-Persiani who the following year was to create Lucia, another part with unavoidable sequences of trills. Her interpolated notes in alt are much less unlovely than those of most sopranos, though I increasingly find it an unappealing habit. A high sustained crescendo in the first finale was thrilling. Despite the lack of direction she created a sympathetic if generalised character. Her rival was taken by Eva Mei, whose somewhat cold timbre suited the part. Everything was cleanly and steadily voiced. She created a powerful character you wouldn’t want to cross. The chief weakness in the cast was the Enrico of Dario Schmunk. His voice sounded unresponsive throughout Act I, as though the only way of ensuring that sound came out was by high-pressured singing that paradoxically wasn’t always loud enough. He improved somewhat in the second act, singing with more variety and freedom. But he didn’t suggest either a lover or a king. Maybe the sense of a hen-pecked husband was deliberate, but I doubt it, and worryingly, there was no physical or vocal glamour to illustrate why Rosmonda had fallen in love with him. Nicola Ulivieri was a sonorous, upright, totally convincing Clifford. In the trousers role of Arturo, Raffaella Lupinacci was fine vocally but neither in bearing, hairstyle or costume did she look like a young man. The Coro Donizetti Opera was excellent, precise and resonant, and the Orchestra Donizetti Opera played well under the sympathetic baton of Sebastiano Rolli. If the strings lacked the polish of The Philharmonia on the Opera Rara recording, once past the Sinfonia I became unaware of any deficiencies.
Something strange happened on the Sunday. After a delay an announcement was made saying that Eva Mei had just been taken ill, but would sing from a seat at the side of the stage while someone else would “act” the part onstage. I have experienced before an ill singer acting onstage while a substitute sang from the side, but never this. In the event she stood and sang. As always when this sort of thing occurs there is some damage to the dramatic picture. Happily there was another announcement after the interval saying that her condition had improved and that she would sing and act Act II.
Rosmonda - Jessica Pratt
Leonora - Eva Mei
Enrico - Dario Schmunck
Clifford - Nicola Ulivieri
Arturo - Raffaella Lupinacci
Direttore - Sebastiano Rolli
Regia - Paola Rota
Scene e luci - Nicolas Bovey
Costumi - Massimo Cantini Parrini
Coro Donizetti Opera
Orchestra Donizetti Opera
Clifford, Rosmonda and Arturo
Leonora and Enrico
Rosmonda and Enrico
Rosmonda and Leonora