Terrific Adelson e Salvini

12 May

Opera Rara tends either to uncover interesting, neglected works that would repay a staged a performance or interesting neglected works that wouldn’t.  Bellini’s first opera. Adelson e Salvini, is probably in the latter category, but it was great to have the opportunity to hear it at the Barbican on 11th May.

Musically, there’s a lot to enjoy.  He wrote it when he was 23 and there’s a huge amount of very strong music in it, much in his mature style.  Indeed, a good deal of the music got recycled into later operas (the heroine’s Act I aria went straight into Capuleti.  There’s also a good deal of music betraying the influence of Rossini – given that Bellini had been studying in Naples, this isn’t surprising; indeed, Bellini writes very good cod Rossini.  For me, the best numbers were a superb duet tenor/baritone duet for Adelson and Salvini and Salvini’s 3rd Act number but there isn’t one that is less than enjoyable and well made.

There are a couple of curiosities. It was written for male voices, presumably the women being sung by boys or male altos, which explains why the heroine has relatively little to do. Also, the first version was written with spoken dialogue rather than recitative – I don’t think I’ve come across an Italian opera with dialogue before.  Here, it was well spoken by the cast who had been nicely directed by Kenneth Richardson and Daniel Dooner.

The problem is the plot which is an uneasy mixture of comedy, melodrama and genuine feeling.  The first act does little more than set up the plot and takes 70 minutes to do so.  The relationships are complicated to work out and there’s a villain who is determined to abduct the heroine for no very plausible reason.  in fact the whole premise is silly.  I think it would be roared off the stage if you ever tried it.  It might be fun for students, though.

The performance, however, was very fine indeed.  Daniele Rustioni conducted outstandingly.  He caught the style perfectly and made the music exciting, interesting and, for me, caught all the strengths of the piece.  The BBCSO played strongly for him.

The most interesting role is that of Salvini, caught between a conflict of love for his friend and his friend’s beloved.  Enea Scala began a rather uncertainly but warmed up as the evening went on and gave a truly outstanding performance of his Act III aria.  This is another very promising bel canto tenor and that aria got the audience justifiably excited.  Adelson is much less interesting but Simone Alberghini did what he could and the two did their duet, torno, o caro, very well indeed.

The opera contains Bellini’s only comic character – a Neapolitan servant, Bonifacio.  He has the most Rossinian music and you can see why Bellini didn’t write more like him.  Having said that, Maurizio Muraro gave a really lovely, endearing performance of the role and had the audience in the palm of his hand.  I’d love to see him do more of this sort of role.  He’d be a smashing Don Magnifico.

Daniella Barcellona was a bit wasted as Nelly but sang very nicely.  Rodion Pogossov was a nicely melodramatic Count Struley, the villainand displayed rather a good voice.  David Soar, Kathryn Rudge and Leah-Marian Jones were fine in the smaller roles.

I doubt that this will ever be a viable stage piece, but this excellent performance showed its strengths, was invaluable in teaching us more about Bellini and was hugely enjoyable into the bargain.  Look out for the CD.


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