Parisina - Carmen Giannattasio, Ugo - José Bro, Azzo - Dario Solari, Ernesto - Nicola Ulivieri, Imelda - Ann Taylor. Geoffrey Mitchell Choir, London Philharmonic Orchestra, David Parry - conductor
|Donizetti’s gripping opera, Parisina, comes from a particularly fruitful period in the composer’s life. The opera made its 1833 debut in Florence, the year Lucrezia Borgia opened at La Scala and Torquato Tasso premiered in Rome, with a libretto by leading exponent of his craft at that time, Felice Romani. Though it was widely staged during the two decades following its premiere, the opera is rarely performed today. Opera Rara hopes the work’s fortunes will change with this new recording, cast from strength and led by the Parisina of Carmen Giannattasio (Opera Rara’s La donna del lago ORC34) and José Bros (Opera Rara’s Roberto Devereux ORC24) as Ugo.
Even for an early romantic melodrama, the plot is unusually dark. Parisina, daughter of an exiled nobleman, has been raised in the Court of Azzo, a 15th century Duke of Ferrara. Azzo pledges to recover her father’s lost states and marry Parisina. But, Parisina has secretly fallen in love with her childhood companion, Ugo, an orphan who was taken in by an elderly minister and educated among Azzo’s pages and, who it is revealed, is the son of Azzo’s previous marriage.
Azzo’s worst suspicions are confirmed as Parisina lets slip her love for another under the silky sedation of sleep. In furious anger at her outlandish passion, and in one of the most electrifyingly dramatic moments in all opera, Azzo has his own son murdered and presents the anguished stepmother with the corpse. This horrifying scenario was just the sort of passionate narrative to set the composer’s musical pulses racing. As Azzo’s fury explodes, driving strings swirl up over a striding bass and, according to biographer, William Ashbrook, “Donizetti unleashes a dramatic energy unequalled by anything he composed up to this time….Parisina contains some of Donizetti’s most vivid musical portraiture….Amongst the composer’s seventy operas, this 1expressive psychological piece was the one that Donizetti himself favoured most – quite an endorsement.”’
The 3CD set contains one of Opera Rara’s unrivalled accompanying books, including a complete libretto with an English translation. Article and synopsis by Opera Rara friend and eminent 19th century musical scholar, Jeremy Commons.