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Ottorino Respighi: La campana sommersa
Valentina Farcas (Rautendelein), Maria Luigia Borsi (Magda), Agostina Smimmero (an old witch), Angelo Villari (Enrico), Thomas Gazheli (The Ondino), Filippo Adami (a faun), Martina Bortolotti (first elf), Francesca Paola Geretto (second elf), Olesya Berman Chuprinova (third elf), Dario Russo (a priest), Nicola Ebau (a schoolmaster), Mauro Secci (a barber), Martino Corda (first child), Letizia Puddu (second child), Sandro Meloni (a dwarf), Coro di voci bianche del Conservatorio ‘G.P. da Palestrina’ di Cagliari, Enrico di Maira (chorus master), Coro e Orchestra del Teatro Lirico di Cagliari, Gaetano Mastroaico (chorus master), Donato Renzetti (conductor), Pier Francesco Maestrini (stage director), Juan Guillermo Nova (set designer and projections), Marco Nateri (costume designer), Pascal Mérat (lighting designer), Tiziano Mancini (video director), Magdalena Herbst (producer)
Recording: Teatro Lirico di Cagliari, Italy (March 30 – April 1, 2016) – 140’
1 DVD Naxos 2.110571 (or Blu-ray NBD0072V) – PCM Stereo and DTS 5.1 – Filmed in 4K Ultra HD – Picture format 16:9 – Region 0 – Booklet in English and Italian – Subtitles in Italian, English, German, French, Japanese and Korean

The chef-d’œuvre, La campana sommersa (The Sunken Bell), is Ottorino Respighi’s brilliantly crafted fantastical opera of woven mortal and fairy worlds that can be loosely outlined to Dvorák’s Rusalka. A musical depiction of Gerhart Hauptmann’s Symbolist drama, Die versunkene Glocke, this Pier Francesco Maestrini production has fabulous depth and haunting magic by way of scenic, projection and lighting disciplines by Juan Guillermo Nova and Pascal Mérat, respectively.

Upon the first note, we’re immediately shunted into ethereal ambivalence (turn back the clock to Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande) and the concise vibrancy of Valentina Farcas’ Rautendelein. Her voice is intoxicating, benevolently piercing to the point of “making a point” and full of dramatic resolve. The fauns of the forest romp about and are decidedly introduced by running piccolo scales. This “thought” is a point-blank to Gabriel Pierné’s Cydalise et le chèvre-pied (1914) with its quasi-Sergei Diaghilev bleep.

At times, the ear innocently tends to be diverted from Respighi due the striking textural costuming envisioned by Marco Nateri. Thomas Gazheli nicely plods along in his squamous lizard costume, continually reminding us of his “Brekekekex” croaking as the rampion-eating Ondino. If there is a bit of Wagnerian might in Respighi’s score, we’re visually reminded through Filippo Adami’s faun and Sandro Meloni’s dwarf (think Alberich) during the forging of the bell in Act III while the three elves (Martina Bortolotti, Francesca Paola Geretto and Olesya Berman Chuprinova)[from Act I] powerfully make us feel we hopped back into Das Rheingold. Agostina Smimmero’s magnetically forceful soprano voice tackles the role of the broody, menacing old witch, in similar limelight to Rusalka’s Jezibaba. Additionally, a Puccinian landscape bites away during early portions of the opera, glancing at La fanciulla del West (with the use of grandiose horns) along with snippets of Turandot.

We continue to be shrouded in mystery with the introduction of the mortal protagonist, Enrico. Angelo Villari has a vivid sense of how to formulate his doom-struck character: we witness the bell maker's fits of emotion as he constantly struggles between love with a wood sprite while digesting the misgivings of abandonment of his mortal wife, Magda. Maria Luigia Borsi is resolute, domineering in her vocal quality, though the vibrato gets a tad shrill and wavy.

Act II is the only section which brings the viewer back to the “real world”...an exercise more of verismo equation, the scene is powerful and downright devastating. At first, however, the curtain rises to the reminiscence of Massenet’s Werther and the playful children, but we quickly move toward Gallic-like terror as is found in Marie Victoire (1914.)

Those fancying other works by Ottorino Respighi will find we’re occasionally submersed inside his symphonic poems, The Fountains of Rome and the The Pines of Rome while also being razzed by the Ballata delle Gnomidi (1920.) “Melodious dissonance”, a coined phrase continually popping up in this reviewer’s mind, has a way of anxiously teasing the listener.

The four acts trend toward dissolving into one continuum, a great arched affect which, in part, is achieved by the wonderful hues by M. Mérat; Tiziano Mancini’s video direction is first-rate and artistically meaningful; sound quality is phenomenal.

Potito Pedarra’s write-up is very concentrated, but there’s tedium in all the credits from past performances. Erasing all these extravagances could have been better substituted with a nice synopsis...in that department, nothing exists.

Christie Grimstad




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