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Gaetano Donizetti: Maria di Rohan
Majella Cullagh (Maria di Rohan), Salvatore Cordella (Riccardo), Marco di Felice (Enrico), Giuseppe Capoferri (Viscount of Suze), Domenico Menini (Gondi), Aleksandar Stefanoski (De Fiesque), Francesco Cortinovis (Aubry), Francesco Laino (A familiar of Chevreuse)
Orchestra and Chorus of the Gaetano Donizetti Bergamo Music Festival, Fabio Tartari (Chorus Master), Gregory Kunde (Conductor), Roberto Recchia (Stage Director), Angelo Sala (Set and Costume Designer), Claudio Schmid (Lighting Designer)
Recording: Donizetti Theater, Bergamo, Italy (October 7 and 9, 2011) – 120’
Bongiovanni # AB 20028 – Booklet in Italian, English and Japanese
Subtitles in Italian, English and Japanese (Distributed by Naxos of America)

Maria di Rohan’s auspicious debut showcases a mature Donizetti, utilizing J.P. Lockroy’s and Edmon Badon’s Un duel sous le Cardinal de Richelieu (1832) as its literary foundation. The plot draws upon courtly French intrigue of the early 1600s, a time when Richlieu’s totalitarian tentacles were a terrorized fright to a general public. As a person, Maria di Rohan actually existed, yet Donizetti magically channeled her life’s historical values into a melodramatic work that centered around three principals. What can be characterized as a typical “love triangle”, though simple in construct but complicated in details, Maria di Rohan is one of Donizetti’s most tightly written works. Donizetti was forever modifying Maria di Rohan to tailor to tastes of specific European audiences. This Bongiovanni release, however, focuses on the work as witnessed when the opera premiered at the Kärntnertotheater in Vienna on June 5, 1843.

With a libretto created by Salvatore Cammarano, the synopsis and background detail is nicely presented during Gregory Kunde’s vibrant and well-paced reading of the “Sinfonia.” The curtain opens to reveal Angelo Sala’s Louvre outline encased in a half-skewed ornamental frame. So too, is an off-kilter and half-buried painting of Cardinal Richelieu. In each of the acts, the frame continues to list with pronounced effect as it sinks into the Saran-Wrap© floor housing a noxious black hole. The ominous vortex likely symbolizes the funneling doom both musically and dramatically.

Maria di Rohan doesn’t have much of a chance without the existence of three strongly delineated singers. Though a general veil of overall temperament satisfies the Donizetti demands, unfortunately, a third doesn’t completely deliver. The Roberto Recchia resultant doesn’t garner convincing frisson.

Inside a steely-edged outline, Majella Cullagh’s dramatic coloratura soprano voice engagingly shifts within Maria’s stiff demands of emotional investment including radiant joy, heartbreak, fear and forgiveness. In Act I her debut is palpable (ref: “Larghetto”) though her persona becomes more convincing as the opera progresses. At times Cullagh’s emotions aren’t necessarily innate with gesticulations appearing a bit delayed and, thus, coming across as more of an afterthought. One can subtly discern this in her face.

Marco di Felice’s register delves nicely into the music, commanding a comfortable baritone vestment that brings an unwavering authoritative stage presence. Projection is excellent and confidence abounds. Di Felice’s cavatina, “Bella e di sol vestita”, has a vivacious outlook similarly found in mid-Verdi works...a solid performance.

The production's weakness centers around Salvatore Cordella’s Riccardo. As Maria’s ex-love, his character doesn’t heighten the moment. Even though the tenor is vocally direct, his upper reaches are a bit reedy and too restrained; the final approach is pallid and thin. He may have had a bad patch that day.

At one point Donizetti expanded the role of Armando di Gondi, but for the sake of tradition, Domenico Menini’s portrayal of the wounded Cardinal Richelieu nephew is only relegated to Act I. A pity, for he exudes a much needed spike and polishes off the youth’s impudent personality with a sense of self-dignified arrogance. A very fitting extrapolation.

Claudio Schmid attempts to match Donizetti’s emotional tones with lighting. The overall attempt is balanced and pleasing, but the execution doesn’t flow very well. It appears more like an “on-off” switch. The yellowish tinta during Maria’s poignant aria, “Havvi un Dio che in sua clemenza”, is abrasive.

While few recordings exist of Maria di Rohan, this is the first DVD of its kind, registered under the Bongiovanni label. We commend the company’s efforts to highlight one of Donizetti’s late works.

Christie Grimstad




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