Maria di Rohan at the Bergamo Donizetti Festival

ItalyItaly G. Donizetti, Maria di Rohan: Soloists, Orchestra and Chorus Bergamo Donizetti Musical Festival, Gregory Kunde (conductor), Teatro Donizetti. 07.10.2011 (JMI)

New Production Bergamo Musical Festival and Teatro alla Scala

Director: Roberto Recchia
Sets and Costumes: Angelo Sala
Lighting: Claudio Schmid


Maria di Rohan: Majella Cullagh
Riccardo: Salvatore Cordella
Enrico: Marco di Felice
Suze: Giuseppe Capoferri
Gondi: Domenico Menini
De Fiesque: Aleksandar Stefanowski
Aubry: Francesco Cortinovis

available at Amazon
G.Donizetti, Maria di Rohan,
Boncompagni, Vienna RSO, Gruberova etc.

For many years, between the months of September and October, the city of Bergamo has been hosting a Music Festival dedicated to Gaetano Donizetti, who was born and died in Bergamo. This year the program was comprised of two rare works by Donizetti, Gemma di Vergy and Maria di Rohan. The last time the later opera could be seen was last summer in England, where the protagonist was Mary Plazas, who turned the role into a personal triumph. Before that there was a concert performance in London for Opera Rara with Krassimira Stoyanova and José Bros under the direction of Mark Elder—the recording of which opera lovers are eagerly waiting for. In Spain I cannot find any single performance of Maria di Rohan during the last 75 years.

Maria di Rohan is one of the last operas by Donizetti, premiering in June 1843 in Vienna (the second Donizetti premiere in the Austrian capital, following Linda di Chamounix). The five years of life left to the composer were a struggle with dementia, the consequence of syphilis. Whether Maria di Rohan fails to be a masterpiece because of that is hard to say, but at least it contains some very valuable passages, including the different arias the composer gives to the three protagonists, and a long and excellent duet of tenor and soprano in act II. Musically, this opera underwent important changes just after its premiere. Among the most notable ones is the final cabaletta for Maria that Donizetti added for its Paris premiere, and the padding-out of minor character of Gondi, who was transposed from tenor to mezzo soprano in the process. The Bergamo Festival went with the original Vienna version, with some minor changes but without the added pieces for Paris. It will be good to remind that the protagonist at the premiere in Paris was no other than Giulia Grisi, not exactly what we had in Bergamo. Perhaps the weakest part of this opera is the libretto (Salvatore Camarano), worthy of a bad soap opera.

The plot of the opera is just the romantic vision of historical characters in 17th century Paris, during the reign of Louis XIII and Cardinal Richelieu. Camarano treats these historical characters so freely, that they share all but the name with the originals. A Countess of Rouen, the Duke of Chevreuse, and the Count of Chalais are involved in a love triangle of the author’s concoction—which reminds a lot of the triangle that Verdi would immortalize a few years later in Un Ballo in Maschera.

The production offered by the Donizetti Festival is Roberto Recchia’s, who turns in effective “low cost” work, respectful of the historical framework and slightly boring. The sets consist of big curtains that close the back and the sides of the stage, as well as the floor, a few props, and a big frame on the back (presumably suggesting the Louvre, where the plot takes place). The costumes are well suited and lighting serviceable. The stage direction itself adds little of interest and the acting was poor.

The musical direction was in the hands of tenor Gregory Kunde who gave his European debut in a pit. His musical direction had some points of interest, especially in the second act, but overall it wasn’t too exciting. I would have rather preferred him on stage as Count of Chalais. The orchestra was no more than mediocre and I missed a better balance sound between the different sections.

Maria di Rohan is a bel canto opera and if something, anything has to prevail, it is beautiful singing by beautiful voices. This opera works quite well with extraordinary voices, but in Bergamo we had none and the result has left much to be desired.

Irish soprano Majella Cullagh  took on the protagonist’s role in a performance that was not to everyone’s liking. She is a good singer with a poor instrument; with about three distinct voices but none of them is good in addition to being one size too small and too weak at the bottom of the register. She knows how to sing around those weaknesses, but this is secondary given the poor quality voice. This character could be a vehicle for a major soprano like Renée Fleming(in that case including the cabaletta that Donizetti wrote for la Grisi), but it wasn’t a triumph for Mlle. Cullagh.

Salvatore Cordella’s Riccardo, Count of Chalais, replaced the indisposed Shalva Mukeria. His voice wasn’t bad, but devoid of elegance, musicality, and expressiveness; sadly the very opposite of the type of bel canto tenor needed for the character. Compared to his colleagues, Marco Di Felice seemed to come from a different star: His Enrico (Duke of Chevreuse) had his cards in order and was the only one to get cheers from the audience. The secondary characters were rather below average, too.

Fortunately the operatic flop (Gemma di Vergy, I hear, was actually well received) did not detract too much from the lovely city and theater, which are well worth future trips to the festival.

José MªIrurzun