Imelda de Lambertazzi

Imelda de Lambertazzi

Imelda – Nicole Cabell
Bonifacio – James Westman
Lamberto – Massimo Giordano
Orlando – Frank Lopardo
Ubaldo – Brindley Sherratt

Geoffrey Mitchell Choir

Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Mark Elder

Reviewed by: John T. Hughes

Reviewed: 10 March, 2007
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

Initially composed in Naples in 1830 (two performances) and 1831 (four presentations) and not, as far as is known, heard between 1856 and 1989 (an Italian Swiss Radio broadcast committed to CD by Nuova Era), “Imelda de’ Lambertazzi” was described in the programme note by Jeremy Commons as the opera which could well be Donizetti’s “most lean, most closely-written score of his entire career”. He also states that “it would be difficult to name a Donizetti score in which there is less fioritura – less coloratura decoration”. That does not mean that there are no melodies. It is by Donizetti, after all.

The story is one of conflicting loyalties and family divisions, in the manner of Romeo and Juliet. Here the Guelphs and Ghibellines are feuding again, for Imelda, daughter of the Ghibelline Orlando, is in love with Bonifacio, a Guelph. The strongest disapproval comes from her brother Lamberto. The fifth character, Ubaldo, is one of Orlando’s retainers: a minor role. The ending is not a happy one.

This performance came after a fortnight spent recording the work for Opera Rara. Mark Elder arranged the orchestra’s strings with the double bases to the left; the cellos, also to the left, cut a swathe through the antiphonal violins. In the choir, men and women were intermingled, as would be the case in a crowd. How well they played and sang under Elder’s guidance. He has a marvellous ear for colour and nuance.

If one sits off-centre in the Queen Elizabeth Hall, one hears an imbalance in the soloists’ contributions. The two tenors, to the conductor’s right, came across more cleanly to me than did the other three singers, purely because of positioning.. Both of them did extremely well. Massimo Giordano was convincingly villainous as Lamberto, with some strong tones, which I did not expect from him. Donizetti did not write fearsomely high lines for Lamberto, but any tenor undertaking the role needs a ringing top, which Giordano certainly had. The week before the recording-sessions he had been vocally indisposed but seemed to be in full possession of his powers at this performance.

The more experienced Frank Lopardo had less to sing (no big aria) but made telling contributions to ensembles. One recalls his delightful Lindoro in “L’Italiano in Algeri” at Covent Garden in 1989 (his John Travolta-like gyrations in the Pappataci trio were a joy). His voice has grown in size and become darker-hued since then, and Verdi and Puccini now plays a bigger part in his repertoire. As Orlando he was a powerful upholder of rigid implacability, but his singing remained stylish. It seems quite a coup for Opera Rara to have obtained his services for this role.

On the other side of the conductor were the remaining three soloists. Nicole Cabell produced some neat phrasing and offered some nicely poised touches. Hers is a rather soft-grained tone, attractive in itself; in its lower middle range the voice did not always penetrate the orchestra. The tone certainly flows easily, though. By her side was James Westman, a Canadian baritone, who studied with Lois Marshall and then with Patricia Kern. He has a cleanly produced tone with enough cutting-edge to come through with clarity. He too phrased well, as in Bonifacio’s aria ‘Imelda me volgea’ in Act Two, the one piece that was well received at that 1830 premiere. Brindley Sherratt sang his few lines sonorously.

The Opera Rara CDs are due to be issued next February.

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