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Gaetano Donizetti: Linda di Chamounix
Edita Gruberova (Linda), Deon van der Walt (Carlo, Viscount of Sirval), Jacob Will (Marquis of Boisfleury), Cornelia Kallisch (Pierotto), László Polgár (The Prefect), Armando Ariostin (Antonio), Nadine Asher (Maddalena), Miroslav Christoff (The Intendant), Orchestra and Chorus of the Zurich Opera House, Urs Stieger (Hurdy-gurdy), Jürg Hämmerli (Chorus Master), Adam Fischer (Conductor), Alf Bernhard-Leonardi (Director for TV and Video), Daniel Schmid (Stage Director), Erich Wonder (Set Designer), Florence von Gerkan (Costume Designer), Jakob Schlosstein/Jürgen Hoffmann (Lighting Designers)
Recorded live from the Zurich Opera House (1996) – 162’
A co-production of SF DRS, 3sat Schweiz and the Zurich Opera House
Arthaus Musik Ref #: NTSC 107 337 – Subtitles in English, German, French, Spanish and Italian – Booklet in English, French and German

L’elisir d’amore (1832), Lucrezia Borgia (1833) and Lucia di Lammermoor (1835), Gaetano Donizetti became a household name in the minds of opera goers which promulgated beyond his native Italy. In 1841 Bartolomeo Morelli, manager of the Kärntnertortheater, approached Donizetti to create a work tailored for Viennese audiences. Donizetti obliged, and eager to build his reputation in the Austrian capital, it was no surprise of his obsession for continuous editing and endless rehearsals to make his debut a glowing one. Linda di Chamounix was, indeed, well received on the May 19, 1842 opening night.

The fact that Linda di Chamounix (1842) is rarely performed places greater onus on this Arthaus Musik recording. This opera semiseria is a benevolent cycling of love and madness, interspersed with sprinkles of buffo which Daniel Schmid explicates with quixotic ironies and unnerving surrealism. Based on the drama, La Grâce de Dieu by Adolphe d’Ennery and Gustave Lemoine, Linda di Chamounix is a bit of a stretch and, so, too, is this production.

Edita Gruberova’s voice remains sophisticatedly supple even at this point in her career. Her effortless approach to the orchestral gymnastics of Donizetti’s coloratura score is filled with marvelous vocal techniques and predilections of delineated acciaccatura and grace notes. Gruberova’s precise conquest first appears during her Act I showcase aria, “O luce di quest’ anima” that is satisfyingly heartfelt then later transforming into a “woman-gone-mad” with heightened palpability. It is absolutely thrilling to hear Gruberova end Act II by sustaining a high B flat in the conclusive “Carlo! Carlo!” Bathed in a tincture of sepia light we find Linda corseted into one of Florence von Gerkan’s lovely 18th century Parisian dresses presented with conservative opulence. Gruberova’s greatest gesticulations appear in this act, especially during the Marquis of Boisfleury’s visit to her apartment. Jacob Will makes good use of his comedic actions and baronial singing as the Marquis.

Confidante to Linda, Pierotto emboldens quirkiness by clinging to her constant companion: a steamer trunk/backpack, complete with a barometric gauge and a flashing traffic light that makes one ponder whether we’re witnessing a ticking time bomb. Despite the absurdity, Cornelia Kallisch’s darkened mezzo voice has a pacifying effect on the traumatized Linda.

Resonating with hopeful love, Deon van der Walt’s Carlo brandishes brilliance and optimistic projection, but the acting is a bit formulaic and stiff. Similarly, Nadine Asher’s Maddelena bears a nicely rounded soprano tone despite a dilution of starchy repose. In the triumphant march-like Antonio/Prefect duet in Act I we find a well balanced blend of Armando Ariostin and László Polgár, though the singing is not quite synchronized. Polgár’s authoritative bass register is an attention-getter even though he appears too inelastic. Donizetti capitalized on Meyerbeer’s innovations by opening Acts I and III with an offstage chorus exemplified by the Zurich Opera House Chorus. There is a politely engrained pizzazz, but it never quite reaches an expectant measuring mark.

Singers become more deeply entrenched in their roles through the secondary reflections of costuming, lighting and scenery. Erich Wonder’s set design is worth contemplating, yet it is two dimensional. A scrim becomes one of the major components, projecting delightful changes of backdrops with great fluidity even though the props and structures raise more questions than answers for an opera that’s already a bit far-fetched. The use of Schlosstein’s and Hoffmann’s silhouettes have elucidating touches such as searchlights attempting to find safe passage through a snow storm while en route to the small mountain village of Chamonix. This effect is somewhat intense. Adam Fischer moves the music along with an acceptable tempo.

Translating Linda di Chaumonix through Daniel Schmid’s eyes would be hard to comprehend if one did not read up on the opera in advance. Perhaps the best attribute within this Linda di Chamounix is experiencing the maturity of Edita Gruberova’s voice that emboldens the pure beauty of this Donizetti opera. Her abilities are absolutely amazing, and this Linda is no exception. Notwithstanding an ambiguous lack of zip, this should not preclude one from exploring this Arthaus Musik recording for Donizetti’s music is taut, expressive and exquisite.

Christie Grimstad




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