World premiere of a rare Donizetti opera in a staged version at the Bergamo festival

ItalyItaly Festival Donizetti Opera 2019 [1] – Donizetti, L’ange de Nisida: Donizetti Opera Orchestra and Chorus / Jean-Luc Tingaud (conductor), Teatro Donizetti, Bergamo, 21.11.2019. (JMI)

Donizetti’s L’ange de Nisida (c) Rota

Director – Francesco Micheli
Sets – Angelo Sala
Costumes – Margherita Baldoni
Lighting – Alessandro Andreoli

Countess Sylvia – Lidia Fridman
Leone de Casaldi – Konu Kim
Don Fernand – Florian Sempey
Don Gaspar – Roberto Lorenzi
The Monk – Federico Benetti

Every year in the second half of November, Bergamo organizes the Donizetti Festival, dedicated to its most illustrious son. The Festival always offers some rarity from the composer’s extensive catalog of operas, and this year there are two: the first staged performance of L’ange de Nisida, to be followed by the seldom seen Pietro il grande. Between these two will be performances of the better-known Lucrezia Borgia with an appealing cast. So, once again, Bergamo is a required stop in the annual opera program for many fans around the world.

L’ange de Nisida is a special case in the Donizetti catalogue: he composed it, but it was neither finished nor performed. This first-ever staging is based on the reconstruction by musicologist Candida Matica; the opera was previously heard in July 2018 in a concert version at London’s Covent Garden.

The work was written during Donizetti’s second stay in Paris, a place where he had enjoyed success earlier, in particular with the French version of Lucia di Lammermoor. At the time there were three main opera houses in the French capital, each of them with its special characteristics in terms of the programs they offered: the Théâtre des Italiens, the Opéra Comique and the one known simply as l’Opéra. In 1838 the Théâtre de la Renaissance was added, and they hired Donizetti to write L’ange de Nisida. However, the theatre went bankrupt, and the opera was never completed. The Opéra then commissioned Donizetti to write a work which became La favorite and incorporated music already composed for L’ange de Nisida.

The well-known arias of La favorite are not found in L’ange de Nisida, although the musical material is used in some duets and in the denunciation of the Holy See. The truth is that L’ange de Nisida is of less interest musically than La favorite, although I doubt that this would have been the definitive version of the opera. It’s hard to believe that Donizetti would write an opera with only three arias, when in his other works they are markedly more numerous.

Bergamo’s Teatro Donizetti has been under renovation for some time and is in somewhat precarious condition. Indeed, the stalls have become the stage, the spectators are seated in the surrounding boxes and the original stage is at the back of the theatre. Francesco Micheli’s production is effective, given the circumstances, and narrates the plot properly. Obviously, given the construction, there are no real sets. The costumes are more or less contemporary, though at the wedding of the protagonists there are some attractive medieval costumes made, by the way, with paper. The lighting is not very helpful, and the theatre floor is used for some image projections. In the first part of the opera, the chorus is placed in the upper boxes, while it appears on stage in the second half.

Conductor Jean-Luc Tingaud’s reading seemed somewhat flat at the beginning of the opera, but it gained in energy and interest. Overall, I preferred Mark Elder’s leadership in London. Under Mr. Tingaud’s baton both the Donizetti Opera Orchestra and Chorus did well.

Although the Angel of Nisida is Countess Sylvia, the great protagonist of this opera, as in La favorite, is the tenor, Leone. Konu Kim, a young singer from the Covent Garden Youth School in London, was his interpreter, and his performance was the most interesting of the entire cast, although not all of it was at the same level. He is the only character in this opera for whom Donizetti wrote two arias, and they were sung correctly and, at times, brilliantly. His voice is attractive, with no problems at the top of the tessitura.

Sylvia, the mistress of Fernand, was played by the young soprano Lidia Fridman, who made her debut last summer at the Martina Franca Festival, replacing Carmela Remigio. Her voice is attractive and well managed, without any tessitura issues, and she knows how to express feeling in her singing. She has to mature still, but she made a very positive impression.

The best-known singer in the cast was baritone Florian Sempey, who gave life to Fernand. His voice is wide and nicely suited, although I found his singing somewhat monotonous and without great nuance.

José M. Irurzun   

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