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A Superb Outing

Bellini's 'La Straniera',
reviewed by ROBERT HUGILL


Bellini's third opera, La Straniera, is not a regular visitor to the opera house. Bellini wrote it in 1829 for La Scala and in writing it he seems to have been concerned to eschew the florid writing characteristic of Rossini's operas. Rossini's was the dominant voice in Italian opera in the 1820s and one way forward was to avoid emulating him. The Bellini of La Straniera is not quite yet the composer of the unending melody of the later operas. But La Straniera combines what we think of as Bellinian declamation with some stirring ensembles and a stormy, romantic plot.

The concert performance of the opera, given at the Royal Festival Hall on 3 November 2007, was an association between Opera Rara and the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the concert linked to the recording of the work by the same forces. In the last couple of years London has seen concert performances, by Chelsea Opera Group, of I Puritani and Beatrice di Tenda and Grange Park Opera has been performing I Capuletti e i Montecchi so this performance enabled Bellini lovers to add another rarity to their belts.

The plot is the usual romantic farrago which makes it understandable why the work is not done more often. La Straniera (Patrizia Ciofi) is a veiled woman living in secrecy in Brittany. Unfortunately her foreignness and her tendency to appear veiled mean that the locals have got rather worked up about her. Arturo (Dario Schmunck) is supposed to be marrying Isoletta (Enkelejda Shkosa) daughter of the local count (Roland Wood). But Arturo has fallen in love with La Straniera even though Arturo's friend Valdeburgo (Mark Stone) warns him against her. So far so good: there is the potential for lots of dramatic confrontations, guilty love etc.

Unfortunately, the plot takes a number of crazy twists. Valdeburgo is in fact La Straniera's brother, though he hasn't told anyone of this. La Straniera is the bigamous wife of the French king; she is in hiding until his first wife dies. Arturo becomes convinced that Valdeburgo is his rival for La Straniera, but neither Valdeburgo nor La Straniera enlighten him so he attacks Valdeburgo and is prosecuted for his murder. Except that Valdeburgo reappears at the last minute, now incensed at Arturo's behaviour even though a simple word or two from Valdeburgo would have made things straightforward. The behaviour of the locals does not help as they stir up Arturo against the foreign woman.

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Copyright © 10 November 2007 Robert Hugill, London UK


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