Opera Rara: new recording of Bellini’s Adelson e Salvini

Adelson e Salvini
was the 24-year-old Bellini’s ‘graduation piece’, written in 1825 for the
Real Collegio di Musica di San Sebastiano in Naples. Either the student
singers at Bellini’s disposal were remarkably talented, or the young
composer was intent on showing off his own prowess and the singers could do
or die!



of Opera Rara’s concert performance contained a fairly lengthy account of
the work’s origins, fortunes and revisions, as well as the literary source
and plot. So, suffice it to say here that Andrea Leone Tottola’s libretto,
set in seventeenth-century Ireland, unfolds as a somewhat disjointed series
of scenes of melodramatic scuffles, infernos and emotional volte faces, in
which Lord Adelson and the Italian painter Salvini are rivals for the heart
of Nelly, the niece of the vengeful Colonel Struley. There is melodrama and
incredulity aplenty: in a struggle to prevent Nelly being abducted by her
uncle, Salvini fears he has killed his beloved and threatens to commit
suicide; but, learning she is alive – and after several fake letters have
add further convolution – Adelson ultimately marries Nelly, as Salvini
renounces his love and promises to return after a year to claim his young
pupil Fanny as his bride.

There is little of the prototype Sonnambula-limpidity evident in
the student Bellini’s nascent musical arsenal, but Rossini’s fingerprints
make a deep imprint, most impressionably in the music written for Salvini’s
comic servant, Bonifacio, who makes his entrance with a Rossini patter aria
– accompanied by a nonchalant flute which makes a paradoxically insouciant
foil for the Figaro-esque bluster of the aggrieved, put-upon Bonifacio.
Bass-baritone Maurizio Muraro makes much of the text and a strong musical
personality emerges, but occasionally the pitch strays from dead-centre.

Muraro himself makes a good counterpart for Enea Scala’s over-wrought and
initially vocally tense Salvini; as the latter begs ‘beguiling hope’ to
abandon his heart, it’s hard to disagree with his servant’s conclusion that
his master is ‘really off his head’ and ‘belongs in the madhouse’. Perhaps
Salvini’s vapidity and vulnerability are the inevitable outcome of the ‘insane’
cabaletta which Bellini gives the tenor, before he’s had time to warm up
his vocal cords, comprising twenty-six high Cs, four Ds, and a top E. The
stratospheric ascents have more elegance than Scala can muster, but it’s
understandable and forgivable that he sounds strained at times, and once
he’s hit the targets, Scala reveals a polished technique and pleasing tone.
His would-be grave-bound avowal of love for Nelly is heartbreakingly
sincere, and is complemented by the poignancy of the oboe’s lyrical
commentary and the urgency of the Opera Rara Chorus (directed by Eamonn

Salvini’s Act 2 duet, ‘Torna, o caro, a questo seno’, with Simone
Alberghini’s patrician-toned Adelson is beautifully enriched by some lovely
horn and woodwind playing while Scala’s more relaxed tenor whips
slickly but ardently through the cascades of split loyalties; both singers
exhibit tenderness in the passages in seductive thirds and sixths, forming
a gentle blend. This number throbs with emotions unspoken, misinterpreted
and misunderstood. And, if elsewhere Alberghini doesn’t consistently
display the technical assurance, accuracy and nimbleness of his colleagues,
his is a convincing contribution to the drama.

The opera was performed originally by an all-male cast, even though there
are three female roles, and one wonders who sang Nelly’s romanza ‘Dopo
l’oscuro nembo’ (later reshaped into Giulietta’s ‘Oh quante volte’ in I Capuleti e iMontecchi), and how. For, the melodic voluptuousness
of this number is a beguiling intimation of where the ‘Swan of Catania’ was
heading. The pathetic instrumental prelude passes slithering motifs from
the depths of the bass to the heights of the woodwind, before pizzicato
strings hook the sentiment and lead into the aria proper. Perhaps bel canto patterns inevitably lead one to make connections, but
there seem to me to be more than a few foreshadowings – in the harmonic
progressions and melodic sighs – of ‘Una furtiva lagrima’. Daniela
Barcellona is able to hold back the full power of her mezzo, prioritising
elegant elaboration over vocal emoting, while using her rich tone to convey
Nelly’s romantic agonies.

David Soar’s Geronio impressed me at the Barbican Hall and continues to do
so on this recording: he offers dark colour to the lighter toned Colonel
Struley of Russian baritone Rodion Pogossov – who still brings some heft to
the role – and the duet with which the dishonourable duo open Act 2 is
engagingly characterised, with some strong string pizzicato adding extra
parodic fierceness and bite. Mezzo-sopranos Kathryn Rudge (Fanny) and
Leah-Marian Jones (Madam Rivers) complete the accomplished cast. The
recitative is well-delivered, and given that most of the cast are native
Italians, dialogue director Daniel Dooner must have had a fairly easy task.

Daniele Rustioni shows off his bel canto credentials, conducting with
unflagging alertness to every dramatic and lyrical detail. The Sinfonia is
typical: a weighty orchestral sound, supported by a strong bass, from
which, by turns, punchy and poignant woodwind themes and, here, a cello
solo emerge with clarity: somehow Rustioni combines power and translucence.
We can hear Bellini’s drama, restlessness and redolent emotion. If
occasionally a withdrawal of the sound seems to owe more to the
engineers than to Rustioni’s interpretative dynamics, this is a very minor

The glossy accompanying booklet contains a detailed and informative essay,
‘Bellini’s Full Opera’, by Benjamin Walton; an account by co-editor
Fabrizio Della Setta of the new critical edition which was prepared for
this Opera Rara performance and recording; a synopsis in English, French,
German and Italian; and, a full Italian libretto with English translation,
the spoken text usefully differentiated by coloured ink.

This is another welcome Opera Rara addition to the forgotten repertory of
the nineteenth century, and the company’s

forthcoming plans

are exciting.

Claire Seymour

Vincenzo Bellini: Adelson e Salvini, opera in 3 acts (1825)

Opera Rara
ORC56 [CD: 73:11; 79:52]

Lord Adelson – Simone Alberghini; Nelly – Daniela Barcellona, Salvini –
Enea Scala, Bonifacio – Maurizio Muraro, Colonel Struley – Rodion Pogossov,
Geronio – David Soar, Madama Rivers – Leah-Marian Jones, Fanny – Kathryn
Rudge; conductor – Daniele Rustioni, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Opera Rara
Chorus (chorus director – Eamonn Dougan)

Recorded in May 2016, BBC Maida Vale Studios, London.

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