Pirates, secret passages, separated sisters and a family secret dominate the plot of Gaetano Donizetti’s opera “Chiara e Serafina”. A sung gothic novel to which the young composer’s music acts like a model catalogue: I can do what my successful colleagues can do too – and even better! However, the ambitious work failed at the premiere in 1822 at La Scala in Milan and was not played for 200 years.
At the Donizetti Festival in Bergamo, the composer’s birthplace, director Gianluca Falaschi doesn’t even try to unravel the crude story, but adds a lot of slapstick and slapstick to it. In doing so, he gives away the melancholic potential of the work to glitzy cheerleaders and ridiculous pirate caricatures. In the obligatory final rondo of the Chiara, everyone else on stage demonstratively shows how boring they find the virtuoso coloraturas of the soprano Greta Doveri and thus finish off the finale.
The young composer is still under the influence of Rossini
However, the singing is consistently good in this cooperation with the opera studio at La Scala in Milan. Conductor Sesto Quatrini takes care of the coordination of the ensemble in an exemplary manner, while the richness of color of the orchestra “Gli originali” falls behind. But even so it becomes clear how much the young Donizetti is still under the stylistic influence of Rossini, the great innovator of Italian opera of the previous generation.
But then there are always harmonic twists and formal variations in which the up-and-coming young artist lays claim to a pioneering role. “Chiara e Serafina” is too immature to be completely rehabilitated, but this makes it the ideal piece for a festival that wants to spread the imaginative composer’s entire stylistic range.
The artistic director Francesco Micheli chose “L’aio nell’imbarazzo” from 1824 for himself. He consistently tells the comedic communication problems between an extremely strict father and his two sons as science fiction in the echo chamber of Zoom and Skype. Everyone tries to deal with the misunderstandings and pitfalls of on-screen conversations or to use the other person’s ignorance to their own advantage. The witty Hofmeister Gregorio acts right in the middle, played by the bass-baritone Alex Esposito with lively ease and virtuosic wit, but above all he sings enchantingly.
He steers the late-pubescent brothers to success and takes their merciless father down hard. With the dramaturgical crowbar, Donizetti ensures a happy ending, the contradictions of which are cheerfully sung away. Director Micheli lets the older son’s secret wife declare her claim to power. She sings her last aria as the new Prime Minister in front of the Roman headquarters of the Fascist party in Mussolini’s time. In this way, the director provides a surprising, day-to-day political twist to the top notes of the confidently creative Marilena Ruta.
Because at this festival all the works are performed according to the new scientific editions and are unabridged, the comedic mechanics of the Italian buff operas can develop just as logically as the tragic course of the original French version of “La favorite”. In 1840 Donizetti composed this drama for the Paris Opera about a naive ex-monk who falls in love with the mistress of the Spanish king. Courtly intrigues, love and sexual desire form an ominous mixture, for which Donizetti writes music that is completely different from that for his Italian works.
While with Rossini the virtuosity and the emotional content are mainly entrusted to the voice, here the orchestra under the conductor Riccardo Frizza becomes an equal partner. The orchestra comments on the inner turmoil of the unequal couple with subtle timbres and surprising harmonic turns. In doing so, Donizetti bends and stretches the strict form of bel canto opera and opens the rigid framework for his successors such as Giuseppe Verdi, who will always orientate himself on this pattern.
In the three productions of the festival, this stylistic development does not remain musicological expertise, but becomes immediately clear through experienced interpreters. The Mexican tenor Javier Camarena presents himself as a sovereign designer of both the melancholy shadowy scenes and the radiant love euphoria with a perfectly fitting height and has an equal partner in Caterina Di Tonno. Director Valentina Carrasco takes the story seriously and tries to make it comprehensible what might have fascinated the audience at the time about this crude story. This makes the most adventurous turns of the plot as exciting as life itself, as exciting as the music of the most imaginative composer of the bel canto era.
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