The clue is in the title. Bellini’s ‘graduation opera’ Adelson e Salvini is more buffo bromance than tragic romance, and none the worse for it. Composed while he was still a student at Naples’ Royal College of Music, and premiered by an all-male cast of fellow students in 1825, the work is a precociously tuneful, intermittently dramatic affair (though the less said about the 17th-century Irish plot the better). Rossini and Mozart are plentifully represented here in the younger composer’s first opera, but there are also tantalising hints of the mature composer to come, and this premiere recording by Opera Rara does its youthful promise proud.
Opera Rara know how to put together a cast, and this one’s no exception. Baritone Simone Alberghini (Lord Adelson) and tenor Enea Scala (his friend, the painter Salvini) battle for the affections of the magnificent Daniela Barcellona’s Nelly – richly resonant, painting her vocal lines with the thickest of brush-strokes – while Maurizio Muraro blusters and booms characterfully as the Leporello-ish manservant Bonifacio.
Rising young conductor Daniele Rustioni shapes an affectionate and lightfooted account of the score, deploying some lovely solo woodwind textures (skittish flutes for Bonifacio, melancholic oboes for Nelly’s Romanza Dopo l’oscuro nembo) over his lithe strings. Highlights include Adelson and Salvini’s charged duet Torna, o caro, showcasing Scala’s radiant upper register, silhouetted against the wider, softer-shaded colour of Alberghini, and Kathryn Rudge’s exquisite opening aria as the lovesick maid Fanny, Immagine gradita.
With multiple versions and revisions available, Adelson e Salvini presents quite a challenge to editors, and the compromise solution won’t suit everyone, opting for the spoken dialogue of the first version rather than the secco recitative of the second. Such lengthy (and expositionally essential) dialogue inevitably makes for an awkwardly fragmented listening experience, but the singers, directed by Daniel Dooner, do their dramatic best, and the spirit of comic energy persists.