Composers: Rossini
Compositions: Zelmira
Performers: Silvia Dalla Benetta s, Joshua Stewart t, Mert Süngü t, Marina Comparato ms, Federico Sacchi b, Luca dall’Amico b-bar, Gianluigi Gelmetti cond, Górecki Chamber Choir, Virtuosi Brunensis
Catalogue Number: Naxos 8660468-70

The last opera Rossini ever created for Naples was written in the hope that it would boost the composer’s profile in Vienna, where he had been promised performances. This hope accounts for the marriage of “Italian” melody and “German” harmony in Zelmira, a thoroughly entertaining tragedy about a woman, the eponymous Zelmira, who endeavours to rescue her father, the king, and her son, from usurpers of the throne. This recording from Naxos presents the revised Paris version, conducted by Gianluigi Gelmetti and featuring Virtuosi Brunensis and Gorecki Chamber Choir.

As Zelmira, soprano Silvia Della Benetta is vocally on point, her dark timbre, juicy tone and power ideal for the role. She also phrases incisively throughout, but is most impressive in introspective moments like the Perchè mi guardi. Less successful is her dramatic realisation of the character – she comes across oddly subdued at times, rarely suggesting somebody thrown into a highly pressurised set of circumstances.

As her husband Ilo, Turkish tenor Mert Süngü has no problem holding your attention, and is the real treasure of this recording. Expressive and credibly heroic, he is a vivid communicator who negotiates all of Rossini’s melodic leaps and bounds with great facility. Highlights include his showy entrance aria Terra amica, but also the way in which he blends with Benetta in their Act 1 duet.

The supporting cast are able but not notable. As Zelmira’s confidante Emma, Marina Comparato offers beautifully ornamented singing but no sense of urgency, while Federico Sacchi as the old king suffers from the same problem, though does come across as the old patriarch well.

The chorus and orchestra are assured and capable under Gelmetti, but lack some of the sparkle and dramatic impetus that makes the score really lift off. 

Not an extraordinary account by any means, but worth checking out if you haven’t come across Zelmira before.