DONIZETTI: Linda di Chamounix

It is one of Donizetti’s best and can easily stand comparison with Bellini’s
Sonnambula which has the favours of opera managers. The Donizettean melodies are tuneful, the
ensembles impressive and the self-borrowing inconspicuous though for opera lovers acquainted
with the same composer’s Maria Stuarda, it can be a shock to meet the impressive Elisabeth and
choir scene once more at the end of the first act in Linda di Chamounix. In an interview the
conductor of this set reveals the difficulties he had in setting up a concert performance while a
theatrical one is almost impossible to get. The main reason seems to be the naïve libretto where
the heroine becomes mad and is returned to sanity when she is reunited with her beloved (the
same theme as in I Puritani which is regularly performed). I fear the real problem seems to be the
sad fact that such a libretto (rich boy loves poor girl, is not allowed to marry her, she gets mad
and is cured when his mama relents) doesn’t pass muster with directors as it seems to be old
fashioned in their eyes (which it isn’t; think of the horror nowadays in the eyes of parents when
their college educated boy would introduce a girl with elementary schooling and no money at
all). As a result there are not too many Linda’s on record available and most of them are
barbarously cut. Happily this set under review has only a few minor cuts; the major one a cut of
only a few minutes in the second act duet between Linda and Carlo and I wonder why that one
couldn’t be restored.

The cast is a good one. Indeed, it is even an excellent one though name fanciers will at first
shrink back a bit as it seems a bunch of second rate singes were just rounded up to assist the
prima donna in a performance on her own label. Though most of the singers didn’t make it to the
big league as we can now be sure of 14 years later after the recording was made, they are all
worthy performers. Take American tenor Don Bernardini. He is indeed a little bit throaty but the
voice is agreeable an manly. He has a fine sense of style and is excellent in his duets where he
proves he can embellish his second verses. Finish mezzo Monica Groop will be somewhat better
known as an excellent Mozartean and she brings a mellifluous voice to the role of Pierotto and
proves that the role is worthy of a good Dorabella. Korean baritone Ettore Kim was not 30 when
he recorded his role of Antonio and the sound is attractive and very Italianate. And as he was
already singing Jago and Scarpia at the time one wonders if he is not one of those many talented
Korean singers who damaged their material by singing too early and too heavy. On this set his
fine lyric baritone blends very well with Stefano Palatchi’s firm but charming bass and their duet
is sung with elegance and panache. Of course the reason of being of the recording lies with Edita
Gruberova and this seems to be one of her best ones. It is probably no coincidence that she chose
Friedrich Haider to be the conductor. He is one who allows his prima donna some leeway; not
objecting to some interpolated top notes and indeed encouraging her though in the essay
accompanying the set he tells that some were eliminated as being not compatible with the
preceding music. It is indeed remarkable that none of Gruberova’s lunges beyond high C strikes
one as sorely sticking out. She clearly enjoys singing the score and brings her outstanding
technique to it, trilling and embellishing wherever it is suitable and in character. Maybe the voice
(on record, less in the theatre) has not enough natural vibrato and sounds a bit stiff but this may
depend upon personal taste. Anyway the main hit of the opera ‘O luce di quest’anima’ is
brilliantly sung and she is equally fine and convincing in the madness scene. Friedrich Haider,
one of the few conductors who actually enjoys accompanying singers, brings his love for
belcanto and the prima donna to the score though without overly indulging her. His baton never
comes to a stand still and his tempi are chosen with a fine eye on the balance between dramatic
truth and the singers wishes. [Refer to his fine performance of Roberto Devereux] As there are so few recordings of Linda
di Chamounix
available this is a worthy addition to the catalogue. The live performance at La
Scala with Alfredo Kraus and Margherita Rinaldi is too heavily cut to be a competitor. Only the
Devia-Canonici-set is a rival to the Gruberova recording and probably it will be one’s individual
liking of the singers that decides which one to purchase.

Jan Neckers

image_description=Gaetano Donizetti: Linda di Chamounix
product_title=Gaetano Donizetti: Linda di Chamounix
product_by=Edita Gruberova (Linda), Don Bernardini (Carlo), Monika Groop (Pierotto), Ettore Kim (Antonio), Stefano Palatchi (Prefetto), Anders Melander (Marchese), Ulrka Precht (Maddalene), Klas Hedlund (Intendente). Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Friedrich Haider
product_id=Nightingale Classics NC 070561-2 [3CDs]