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Despite all the talk of torture and execution, not a lot dramatically really happens in the opera. Instead it can be enjoyed for the series of set pieces it conjured out of Bellini and the way he depicts the interaction between the various characters. A political sub-plot, relating to Beatrice's dead first husband, is woefully under developed, perhaps because the rushed nature of librettist Felice Romani's writing. (He was also working on four other librettos at the same time as Beatrice.)
Stephen Gadd was impressive in the (very) high baritone part of Filippo. Gadd seemed to have no fear of the high tessitura and contributed some wonderfully flexible fioriture. As Filippo becomes angrier in Act 2, Gadd was suitably dramatic, though his performance rather lacked the manic edge I would have liked; perhaps this would be better brought out in a staging? That said, his final set piece when he signs Beatrice's death warrant managed to combine drama and anger with a finely, flexible vocal line.
As his mistress, Agnese del Maino, Anne Mason sang ravishingly, seemingly uncaring that the tessitura of the role verges on the soprano range. Her light, shapely singing meant that Agnese was definitely alluring and attractive. Mason has quite a soft grained voice, with great flexibility that was just right for this role. Agnese is not a black-hearted villainess and she spends quite a lot of the opera either in love or bewailing the dreadful turn that her plans have taken.
Orombello is a rather ambiguous tenor role. He does not get a proper love duet with either woman; Beatrice does not return his love and he does not love Agnese. Don Bernardini sang the role confidently and straightforwardly, projecting a decent man caught up in things which he barely understands. Bernardini has an attractive, open, toned voice which suited the opera well. Whilst he has quite a big voice, he modified his tone when needed, contributing a beautifully modulated quiet ending to his final, 'off-stage' aria (in fact delivered from the rear of the stage).
Paul O'Neill rather got the short straw, having to contribute to quite a lot of ensembles and only getting to sing one extended scene; still his fine-grained Italianate tone impressed.
Copyright © 22 March 2007
Robert Hugill, London UK