BBC Music Magazine
Lost Donizetti makes for a compelling discovery
Christopher Cook is bowled over by the engaging performances in Opera Rara’s latest reconstruction
Donizetti L’ange de Nisida
Joyce El-khoury, David Junghoon Kim, Laurent Naouri, Vito Priante, Evgeny Stavinsky; Chorus & Orchestra of the Royal Opera House/mark Elder Opera Rara ORC 58 156:03 mins (2 discs) L’ange de Nisida is a genuinely lost opera, rescued now by the scholar Candida Mantica, but what a tangled web opera history weaves! Composed in 1839, it was intended for the ThéJtre de la Renaissance in Paris (a story of a 15th-century King of Naples who kept a mistress was unlikely to find favour with the Neapolitan censor). Working against the clock as usual, Donizetti raided an unfinished opera, Adelaide. However, the French company went bust so Donizetti recycled some of what he had written for La favorite.
Provenance is one thing: what matters is whether L’ange de Nisida is a historical footnote or is in fact a compelling piece of music theatre. Happily, the answer is ‘yes’ to both questions. The scholar Roger Parker makes a strong case in the programme booklet for Donizetti ‘pushing’ operatic form in the structure of
Mark Elder really understands how to let Donizetti breathe
the arias and in genres too. So it’s described as an opera semi-seria; and indeed in Don Gaspar, the King of Naples’s Chamberlain, we have a character who seems to have strayed in from the buffa tradition, particularly in his Act I aria ‘Ma puissance n’est pas mince.’
Laurent Naouri, taking on that basso buffo role, makes a feast of the part. But it’s Joyce El-khoury as Sylvia, the King’s mistress, and David Jonghoon Kim’s Leone, the young man in love with her, who steal the singing honours. Their last act duet when all that awaits them is death or a monastery could wring tears from a stone.
It helps, of course, that Sir Mark Elder is in charge. With his long experience in opera, he is that rare thing: a conductor who really understands how to let Donizetti breathe, not merely in sentences but musical paragraphs.