Donizetti: Gianni Di Parigi / Sagripanti, Lekhina, Candia, Rocha, Gardina

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DONIZETTI Gianni di Parigi Giacomo Sagripanti, cond; Ekaterina Lekhina ( Princess of Navarra ); Edgardo Rocha ( Gianni ); Roberto de Candia ( Grand Sénéchal ); Slovak Ch of Bratislava; O Internazionale d’Italia BONGIOVANNI 20025 (DVD: 110:05 Text and Translation) Live: Palazzo Ducale, Martina Franca 7/2010

One can take note of certain amateurish aspects of Bongiovanni’s production. The camera occasionally lurches to find a singer who moved on stage. The English titles are clumsily translated, as are the excellent notes in the accompanying booklet. The microphones placed on the front of the stage do not always pick up singers well as they move upstage. The number of cameras used would appear to be minimal, so there is little variety to the kinds of shots we get.

Despite those shortcomings, this is a delight, and should be of interest to anyone interested in the bel canto period of opera. Gianni di Parigi is not one of Donizetti’s masterpieces, but neither is it one of his weakest scores. It is an intriguing combination of Rossinian comedy (particularly in the first act) and Donizetti’s own brand of long-lined lyricism (mainly in the second). The writing is always tuneful, often inspired, and occasionally original. The opera is filled with arias, duets, and ensembles that impress themselves into your mind and stay in the memory.

The story is a piece of fluff. Gianni is the heir to the throne of France, and is committed to marry the Princess of Navarra, but he wants to get to know her and see if he likes her. The Princess is herself due to arrive at an inn where she has reserved rooms and the kitchen, but Gianni, pretending to be a rich but oafish “Signor Burghese,” offers the innkeeper enough money to take the inn over, and then invites the Princess to dine with him. She suspects that this might be the Prince, but plays along. There are a number of comic situations involving the innkeeper and his daughter, and the Senechal who accompanies the Princess as well as Gianni’s page, but all ends happily (including the page pairing off with the innkeeper’s daughter).

Much of the success of this release is the performance. Gianni was written for the greatest stars of the day: The demanding tenor title role was composed for the great Rubini, who sang the premiere. The Uruguayan tenor Edgardo Rocha is a name new to me, but I will seek out other performances. He studied some with Rockwell Blake, and has a bit of Blake’s hardness of sound at full volume, but only a bit. Rocha’s ability to sing softly and gently, with a remarkably sweet tone, is extremely appealing, as are his ringing high notes (up to D) and his agility in florid passages. Although he kindly lets the final bow at the curtain calls go to the soprano lead, in fact I think it is as a tenor vehicle that this opera makes its strongest mark.

The Princess is a typical Donizetti soprano role, with long-breathed lyric lines combined with coloratura fireworks. Ekaterina Lekhina sings it very well. Her eastern sound is not what we normally associate with this music, and she lacks the flair of Rocha, but her singing is lovely and accurate and she has a winning stage personality. The duet for the two of them near the opera’s end, “Nulla di più perfetto … questo mortal beato” is top-drawer Donizetti, and the two sing it wonderfully. Roberto de Candia’s voice is a bit grainy, but his singing is solid and he inhabits the buffo role of the Grand Sénéchal completely.

The rest of the cast is very good. There may not be a jaw-droppingly sensational standout like the tenor, but all sing attractively and all are clearly having fun with the opera and the production. That production is simple and traditional; the entire opera takes place at the inn, attractively presented, with costumes that seem to come from the 1950s (but are consistent throughout and not at all ill-suited to the opera). The orchestra is a touch scrappy, but the musicians know the style and Sagripanti keeps things moving without ever losing suppleness in his phrasing. As indicated in the opening of this review, the production values are fairly shoddy, and there are no extras on the DVD, but that should not deter you from exploring this. I expect to return to Gianni often.

FANFARE: Henry Fogel

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: AB 20025

  • UPC: 8007068200252

  • Label: Bongiovanni

  • Composer: Gaetano Donizetti

  • Conductor: Giacomo Sagripanti

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Bratislava Slovak Chorus, Italian International Orchestra

  • Performer: Edgardo Rocha, Ekaterina Lekhina, Eleonora Buratto, Paola Gardina, Roberto De Candia