Compositions: Il Castello di Kenilworth
Performers: Jessica Pratt s, Carmela Remigio ms, Stefan Pop bar, Xabier Anduaga t, Orchestra Donizetti Opera/Riccardo Frizza
Catalogue Number: Dynamic 37834 (DVD), 57834 (Blu-ray)
People talk of Donizetti’s three queens, but did you know there’s a fourth? A year before Anna Bolena, six before Maria Stuarda and eight before Roberto Devereux, the master of Bergamo first tried his hand at Tudor politics with Elisabetta al Castello di Kenilworth. Based on Walter Scott’s 1821 Kenilworth, it’s a piece of historical flummery with formulaic musical constructs, but it has the virtue of several top-notch confrontation scenes and the usual plethora of easily-digested melodies.
The poetically licensed tale tells how the ambitious Earl of Leicester squirrels away his secret wife Amy Robsart (Amelia) ahead of a visit from his would-be royal paramour Elizabeth (she of Virgin Queen fame). In Scott’s novel, by the time the queen learns the truth, Amelia has been murdered by Leicester’s wicked henchman Warney. In the opera, though, Amelia narrowly escapes a poisoning and all wrongs are righted (though if you know your history, you’ll know the real-life Amy will conveniently break her neck falling down a staircase a few years hence).
Maria Pilar Pérez Aspa’s production for the 2018 Donizetti Opera Festival in Bergamo contains a certain amount of nonsense: if he’s married her in secret, why does Leicester leave his wife’s wedding veil lying on the floor? Poor Amelia is locked up in a cage, but every time it needs to disappear she has to scuttle off inside it. Later on, a glass harmonica accompaniment sends the director into full mad-scene mode, though the character is merely reminiscing. Villains here are real moustache twirlers – the ham is definitely honey glazed – and with little furniture or props, singers fall back on standard operatic tropes. Nevertheless, it looks attractive on Angelo Sala’s uncluttered stage and hums along under the incisive baton of Riccardo Frizza.
Jessica Pratt makes a powerful Elisabetta, singing with heft and style, yet able to pull back to a lovely pianissimo. Her showcase entry aria is beautifully decorated and crowned with a thrilling top E. Carmela Remigio is a feisty Amelia though her acting is pretty Gloria Swanson. Vocally her lighter soprano is attractive if a little unsteady under pressure.
As Leicester, fresh-faced tenor Xabier Anduaga (who’s just won Operalia) is a find, singing easily up to top B with a bright, Flórez-like timbre and real elegance. Stefan Pop brings a heldentenor ring to the villainous Warney, who, in a nice touch, turns out to be a lascivious prelate.
A definite curiosity for lovers of good singing and lively tunes.