Opera semiseria in three acts. Running Time: 2 hours 56 minutes.
I could not find the Opera Rara release anywhere (well, for free that is) so I selected this nearly 3 hour recording with the 1991 recording with the Orchestral of Eastern Netherlands conducted by Gabriele Bellini with Mariella Devia as Linda, Luca Canonici as Carlo, and Sonia Ganassi as Pierotto. At the very least the soloists are Italian, which is more than I can say for my previous go at this opera.
SETTING: Chamounix and Paris, the winter of 1760. The Loustolot family is in danger of losing their farm, but not to worry as the daughter of the family is engaged to the son of the local Marquise, although she doesn’t know this yet! Her father takes forever to figure this out, which prompts Linda to go insane. But don’t worry, all ends happily.
LOOK OUT FOR:
ACT 1: Village Square, Chamounix, Savoy, France. (71 minutes)
0: The overture **, full scale nine-minutes long. starting with a sweet andante passage. It gets a bit more furious, sort of like a section from a Beethoven symphony, and the various themes repeat for the duration. Overall, perhaps the best overture Donizetti wrote for a drama.
9: Presti! Al tempio! A very beautiful off-stage a cappella chorus of villagers making their way to dawn mass **. Maddalena comes on fearing that the farm her husband Antonio has mortgaged might be foreclosed by the ruling Marquise.
13: Ambo nati in questa valle Antonio goes into some detail for his wife as to how he hopes to not, literally, give up the farm, in a somewhat chromatic aria **. He has spoken with the the Marquis, the brother of the Marquise who both owns their lease and is the god-mother of their daughter Linda.
18: Or a noi The Marquis arrives and is greeted warmly by all. He goes about his business in a sort of retro (read: Rossinian) buffo aria **. Amusing, with a vigorous finish. The Marquis asks about Linda (because he wants her for himself), her parents assume she has been delayed at church.
28: O luce di quest’anima We discover that, in fact, Linda has not been to mass at all, but rather went to a failed rendezvous with Carlo (a penniless artist), who never turned up and left only a flower for her. She embarks on a short but complicated coloratura showcase ** pregnant with fioritura.
33: Cari luoghi ov’io passai A minimally accompanied romanza from Pierotto which sounds not half-way away from a Monteverdi recitative *.
36: Per sua madre ando una figlia A slow moving narrative ballad for Pierotto **. Dark, even a little forlorn, but the orchestral accompaniment is an interesting combination of something almost mystical and a waltz. Quite possibly the best number of the act.
47: Sei tu sola? Alone, the lovers forgive each other for not meeting up earlier to a somewhat derivative duet (it is easy to predict how the music will proceed here, no surprises). The second half of the duet is more interesting *, but it feels so odd having a major character just pop in for nine minutes of duetting and then disappear again. The weakest item of the act.
57: Esaltiam La Tua Potenza The Prefect, the village priest, warns Antonio that the Marquis is only helping him out because he wants Linda for himself. The finish is a little more pulsating than the many body of the number, which is very holy-holy from the Prefect and a little more lyrical from Antonio *. They decide that Linda must leave the town with the men who are all going to Paris to work as street entertainers over the winter in order to raise money for the population. Linda will stay with the brother of the Prefect (but how do we know she is safer this way?).
63: Miei figli, tetro sovrasta The eight-minute act finale ** follows a sad recitative in which Linda is informed of her immediate transport from Chamounix to Paris (not accepted with the usual excitement one encounters when told of an immediate trip to the French capital). Eventually the scene climaxes in a lovely prayer from the Prefect, Antonio, and the chorus as the boys and Linda (who worries about why Carlo is not present) go off to Paris.
ACT 2: An aristocratic boudoir. Paris, three months later. (57 minutes)
0: Gia scorsero tre mesi Linda reveals in some opening exposition that her Carlo is actually the son of the Marquise and nephew of the Marquis and has set her up in luxury in the fashionable district in Paris, plus they are soon to be wed. The most interesting thing here is some slow moving work (based on a number in act 1) for the strings * as Pierotto shows up on her doorstep having recently recovered from some sort of illness and he explains that he has not been able to make any money yet and needs to be taken in.
5: Al bel destin che attendevi Nice soprano-contralto duetting *: nothing particularly demanding to a mild tune.
12: Io vi dico, che partiate The Marquis arrives and attempts to seduce Lindy into marrying him instead of his nephew! Their duet is good comic stuff **. It does have one very sweet melody at its core but the musical inspiration is fragmentary with other melodies blurting out from the orchestra without any warning and none of it comes back. He attempts to assault Linda leading to a furious stretta.
25: Se tanto in ira agli uomini Carlo comes on to remind us that he is also in this opera (somehow). He also throws in the one bone in the plot (his mum wants him to give up Lindy and marry a rich girl). He seems way too willing to give her up (no fight with mum?). His aria * is a pretty (read sedate) andante piece which is also rather bloodless with what appears to only be string and woodwind backing.
32: Ah! Dimmi…Dimmi io t’amo The second Linda-Carlo love duet is a bit more passionate than the first ** (not spectacular mind you, but better, even if the orchestra does cut out rather frequently for the sake of vocal display). The organ-grinder music from Pierotto is heard outside, and there is a rousing finish which at least gives some pulse to the situation.
41: Un buon servo del Visconte The remainder of the act consists of a duet-trio-duet sandwich for Linda, Antonio, and Pierotto. Linda encounters Antonio at her door *. She recognizes him immediately but he doesn’t know who she is. Odd, does he happen upon her door by chance? She finally reveals her true identity to him and he accuses her of now being a kept woman for some nobleman. She reveals that she and Carlo are to be married and their relationship is respectable, but he doesn’t believe her.
46: Io vi lascio Pierotto returns and tries to defend Linda from her father ** who disowns her and leaves in a fury (although you wouldn’t know this from the orchestra). At this point, Linda starts to show signs of OSID (Operatic Soprano Insanity Disorder) made worse by an outside brass band which gives her opportunity to think that Carlo is coming to fetch her for their wedding.
ACT 3: Same as Act 1. (48 minutes)
7: Ciel, che dite? After a standard opening chorale and Brindisi, the Prefect comes on and then suddenly Carlo shows up searching for Linda, she is nowhere to be found, and this prompts a very good duet *** (for me the best number in the entire opera).
19: Ella è un giglio di puro candore The Marquis comes on announcing that he is about to be married **. A jovial item.
36: È la voce, che primiera What follows is a three minute long interlude full of doom. It stops and goes as Linda and Pierotto come on. The Prefect arrives and sees that Linda has gone bonkers. Carlo comes on. Eventually so do Antonio and Maddalena and everyone sees that Linda is crazy. Carlo observes Linda in a sad little cavatina **. Eventually he sings a melody from the act one love duet and this restores her to sanity.
42: Compi, o ciel, la nostra spene An a cappella prayer *.
43: Un sospiro…ella rinviene The Marquis tries to crash the wedding before a brief finaletto brings the whole show to a conclusion *.
The 1991 recording makes a much better case for the opera than the 2011 stage production (in spite of both Damrau and Florez). Although I still don’t love this opera, at least I do not feel like it is being forced upon me. There are problems: the tenor lead is a waste both in terms of how little he sings and how low-quality his music is in comparison to everything else in the score. The plot has a lot of holes (what actually happens with the farm? how does Linda learn of the true identity of Carlo? and why is she okay with him having deceived her for so long? How does the Marquis not know about Carlo courting Linda and if he does why does he, a much older man, continue to pursue her when she has never given him any encouragement? Why doesn’t Antonio trust his own daughter, or for that matter recognize her after a makeover, and instead he accuses her of being a prostitute shacked up with a nobleman?). The madness Linda endures is a dramatic conceit and is so much of a trope that it is uncomfortable, similarly to Catherine Glover in La jolie fille de Perth. As for the music, there are some very good passages, of both a dramatic and comedic quality, but nothing here is excellent, at least not in my opinion. Certainly others think this thing is the bees-knees, but for me, it was a tired experience. As with all Donizetti and me, it is hit and miss; this was more of a miss. Beta, others will think more highly of it but I personally don’t like it.