Maria di Rohan - OAE / Elder - Royal Festival Hall, 7 November 2009
Mark Elder and the OAE spent the week before this concert performance rehearsing and recording Maria di Rohan for the Opera Rara label. The consequent polish and confidence perhaps flattered the work - you rarely hear bel canto played this stylishly in the opera house, let alone on period instruments – but still, it’s remarkably light on cliché and a cut above the usual second-division bel canto potboiler.
Donizetti’s first version of the score, as played here, omits a certain amount of frou-frou the composer added for later performances in Paris and generally taken up since. The result is a propulsive drama that never sits back on its arias for too long, but at the expense of any light relief. There are no pretty tunes, no showpiece cabalettas. A charming almost throwaway duet taken from the second version and presented as a final petit-four demonstrated Donizetti’s later additions were perhaps a little more than a sweet-toothed concession to French taste.
It was cannily cast and sung with finesse, though without that final degree of dramatic conviction that might have turned a thoroughly enjoyable performance into an electrifying one.
Krassimira Stoyanova’s dark, agile soprano negotiated the lines readily enough, but it wasn’t until the second half that she really seemed to engage with the character of Maria, the apex of the opera’s love triangle. Jose Bros brought clarity, a bright nasal tone and seemingly limitless volume to her forbidden crush, Riccardo. But again, nothing really leapt off the page until the second half. Christopher Purves as her honourable husband Enrico had the expressive edge, but some kind of vocal health problem meant his most heroic act of the evening was simply making it to the end. The supporting cast were excellent all round, with Loic Felix as Armando di Gondi particularly impressive.
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