Opera in two acts. Running Time: 2 hours 15 minutes.
Modern day fortress at Golkonda, India.
This is another request from Lorenzo Moog. Please make requests, I love to know what readers want. Otherwise I am just randomly reviewing operas at whim.
SETTING: The Indian city of Golconda, mythic times although France exists. The plot is based on the improbable premise that two French girls (Alina and Fiorina, soprano and mezzo-soprano) were kidnapped by Indian Muslim pirates. Alina caught the eye of the King of Golconda, who married her and then promptly died under non-mysterious circumstances, leaving the girl as his widow and queen regent. She is pressured to seek re-marriage, but can not forget her lover, the army officer Ernesto Volmar (baritone), who arrives in Golconda as French ambassador. His aide-de-camp just happens to be one Belfiore (buffo bass), husband of Fiorina with whom she shares an argumentative relationship and she vacillates between wanting to see him again and fearing a new fight. Meanwhile the sort of villain of the piece is Seide (tenor), the leading candidate for the hand of Alina before the Frenchmen arrive, who storms the palace and imprisons Alina when she rejects him only to be defeated by the French. In order to give this thing more of a plot and less of it just being massive backstory, Alina and Fiorina decide to test their respective mates, with Alina building a replica of a Provencal village in her garden where she seduces Volmar and Fiorina convincing Belfiore that the abduction of the two women was really just the result of a drunken stupor on his part. The only other soloist is Hassan, a tenor servant who announces plot forwarding stuff.
NOTE: There is apparently only a single performance of this opera available (the 1987 production from Parma) and I really do not think it makes a good case for the opera at all. The production values and performances are traditional and good, but either the sound quality or the fact that I am in generally very judgemental of Donizetti left me underwhelmed by this opera.
LOOK OUT FOR:
0: The overture ** is a very energetic exercise.
ACT 1: (76 minutes)
Scene 1: A room in the royal palace of Golconda opening up to the sea.
6: Or che da te rimuovi The opening scene * starts with a springy feminine chorus. I believe that this is an early version of that faux-Spanish chorus in Act 1 Scene 2 of Sancia di Castiglia, just saying. Alina has a starchy but okay cabaletta as she goes about her morning toilet and contemplates re-marriage plans while also thinking about her former lover, the French officer Ernesto Volmar. Her servant Hassan announces the arrival of a French ship and of her Indian suitor Seide.
16: Salve, o sole Another bouncy chorus * as Seide arrives to make his sales pitch to Alina ended effectively with her rejection in a choral backed ensemble.
Scene 2: Another room in the palace.
27: Bel paese, ciel ridente An amusingly dapper duet ** for the two Frenchmen as they arrive for diplomatic introductions to the Queen. Good woodwind work in particular.
36: Insiem si consultano The first test (of three) in which the girls hide among the slave girls and try to entice the Frenchmen with their voices in a pretty quartet **. It starts off very slowly with Fiorina taking the reigns but eventually flowers nicely thanks to sustained soprano lines from Alina. In the second half it speeds and get more energetic. The boys do not fall for the exotic girls, they pass the first test.
Scene 3: Another room in the palace.
52: Dunque invan mi lusingai Seide learns of the relationship between Alina and the French ambassador and vows to take power from her and have her for himself *, enlisting men to help.
Scene 4: The throne room.
60: Fra quante il mar dell’India Just so we know how unoriginal the music of Donizetti is, he will later reuse parts of the first act finale number * at the start of Maria Stuarda, although here it is interestingly female only and not co-ed.
67: Tace sospeso e attonito Eventually, after a long scene in which both Side and Volmar make their cases before Alina, a lovely warm ensemble develops **. Alina offers to marry Volmar, but he turns her down, still believing her to not be who she actually is. This is the second test. Belfiore recognizes the voice of Fiorina, and is terrified. Seide starts to incite rebellion.
73: Non temer i diritti The stretta is amusing * and a little furious. A satisfactory end to the act, but not much more.
ACT 2: (58 minutes)
Scene 1: The palace garden made up to look like a Provencal farm complete with windmill.
2: Più d’Alina impaziente After Seide and Hassan have some recitative and a tippy-toe chorus, Fiorina comes on singing an amusing if slight song *.
5, 10: Andiam: cogliamo i grappoli Suddenly there is a very strong orchestral interlude *** as we come upon the farm set. Volmar wakes up in this make believe world. A female chorus sings in the background **.
12: Sei pur tu che ancor rivedo? The Alina-Volmar love duet *** finally allows the opera to fully flower.
27: Io sognai che disperato Fiorina has Belfiore brought in and convinces him that they are back in France and he has just been having a drunken fantasy about this whole trip to India thing **. An amusing buffo aria. After which the ruse is revealed, although given that Fiorina really is his wife, only the locale was fake.
37: Io t’amo Alina, io t’amo Seide declares his love for Alina ** and is rebuffed provoking all sorts of violence and imprisonment for the Queen. Hassan arrives warning of the return of the French.
Scene 2: The throne room.
48: Ma più presso, ma più forte Volmar quickly puts down the revolt and Alina is restored to power *.
51: Eri di notte il sogno The last seven minutes consist of a final aria con coro ** for Alina as she first expresses joy at the faithfulness of her people but quickly turning to her love for Volmar.
This was an entry that was a long time coming. Although recently suggested by a reader, I have been considering this one for years but never got very far. The plot is not a standard love triangle really as we have the mezzo and basso comic foils who are given almost as much attention. The comic elements are better than the main story, but these also feel incredibly distant from the main narrative, not least because the two cultures involved, Indians and French Provencal, are so alien to each other. The score is a mix of strengths and weaknesses, especially in the first act. The weak link in the casting is definitely the tenor villain (I know odd for me, but the tenor casting is wasted here). Although performed adequately by Rockwell Blake, it is a really boring part. Alina herself is thankfully far more interesting, and once you get through the long and drawn out first act, the second act does reward. Nevertheless a beta.