Déjà Review: this review was first published in January 2002. The recording is no longer available new, but can be obtained through third-party sellers.
Carlos Gomes (1836-1896)
Salvator Rosa – opera
Libretto by Antonio Ghislanzoni
Isabella – Lisa Livingston (soprano)
Salvator Rosa – Fernando del Valle (tenor)
Gennariello – Andrea Baker (mezzo soprano)
Masaniello – Michael Gluecksmann (baritone)
Il Conte de Badajoz – Christopher Lemmings (tenor)
Duca d’Arcos – Michail Milanov (tenor)
Fernandez – David Curry (tenor)
Corcelli – Jürgen Frantz (bass)
Fra Lorenzo – Martin King (bass)
Bianca – Caroline Dowd-Higgins (soprano)
Dorset Opera Chorus
Dorset Opera Orchestra/Patrick Shelley
Regis FRC9201 [2 CDs: 142]
There are not many South American composers one could name at the drop of a hat; Villa-Lobos may be the exception but Gomes runs a close second, though entirely due to his Aida-style opera Il Guarany. Though Brazilian he was sent by his enlightened Emperor (Pedro II) to study in Italy, so the Verdian influence is unsurprising, and indeed the great man admired him, so it is said. Gomes had made his Italian debut as a composer of operetta, which may explain why his music does occasionally descend into rum-ti-tum rhythms.
The duet between Salvator and Masaniello near the start of Salvator Rosa sounds as if it is going to break into ‘A life on the ocean wave’ at any moment. The end of Act two, Scene two has overtones of a Song without Words by Mendelssohn. The trumpet solo with the offstage chorus in Act four has a familiar ring to it, while the start of the overture is very like Aida, which, considering the date of the opera’s premiere (Teatro Carlo Felice, Genoa, 21 March 1874), is understandable. Thereafter it had to wait over a century for its first British staging, by Dorset Opera, in the summer of 2000. The opera’s librettist was Antonio Ghislanzoni, Verdi’s collaborator for La forza del destino and the versifier of Aida.
Salvator Rosa (1615-1673) was born near Naples and lived his adult life in Rome as a painter, improviser, actor, and poet. As a patriot he made powerful enemies with his satires. He wisely moved to Florence for the 1640s before returning to Rome when the dust had settled. He is remembered for his paintings of wild and savage landscape scenes. The opera is much concerned with his patriotism, plots and insurrection (no shortage of ‘Viva la libertà’), power struggles, and misunderstood love, with the usual pot-pourri of assassins, brigands, aristocrats, nuns and a self-sacrificing soprano who, committing suicide in public to avoid a forced marriage, urges her lover to live on and paint. The music has some glorious moments as well as lesser ones of paper-thin quality. The duets are Gomes’s most inspired creations, though when the harp is in full cry with the singers the music is invariably thrilling.
Despite the absence of any audience applause, the CD is an amalgam of two live stagings at Dorset Opera’s base at Sherborne School (the give-away some choral clapping and foot-stamping to a rustic Tarantella – evoking Verdi’s Forza del destino – at the end of Act two), and there are a few strange vocal balances especially with the amateur chorus with one or two individual voices from their 48-strong group occasionally over-audible. They are not helped by some curious writing and miscalculations on Gomes’s part, such as the taxing men’s chorus with accompanying bassoon. The convent scene has the obligatory bell and (hideous electronic) organ to accompany the sisters, who, when in a more upbeat interlude, threaten to kick the habit and get ahead of the beat.
It’s a pity there’s no biographical information in the booklet about the international line-up of soloists (this reviewer managed to get hold of a programme issued at the performances) because some of the singing is very good, particularly Lisa Livingston’s dramatically vivid Isabella (a glorious, effortless top C to end Act two and darker Verdian colours in her Act three Romanza). Bulgarian Michail Milanov’s imposing bass (and not a tenor as listed on the box) sings the Viceroy. Success is rather patchy for the occasional woolly, unfocused tenor of the opera’s hero. Del Valle’s voice might be an acquired taste for some, (and one reviewer of his Wexford appearance in Gomes’s opera Fosca brought the names of Domingo, Caruso, Bergonzi, and Gigli into the frame) but to this writer, though the voice has satisfying, even thrilling, moments it is inconsistent and frequently sounds as if it’s all too much of an effort. The top notes produced by this Hungarian-Spanish tenor have that uneasy feeling of being just under the note, (although in that regard some other cast members are not exactly guiltless). By the end, Mario Lanza-style sobs begin to creep in. The Australian baritone Michael Glucksmann (one of several of this almost entirely non-British cast making a return appearance with the company) tends to bark when his role becomes more agitated and only just clings on to his long sustained high notes (Fs and a G) during Masaniello’s acclamation scene. On the other hand Andrea Baker’s gutsy Gennariello (the trouser-role of Rosa’s apprentice) packs a punch, her harp-accompanied serenade at the start of the fourth act stylishly delivered including her final B flat.
The orchestra of 42, led by former Hallé leader, Pan Hon Lee and including such luminaries as former BBC Symphony Orchestra clarinettist Colin Bradbury (has he retired to leafy Dorset perhaps?) are presumably largely players from the nearest professional band, the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra on a busman’s holiday. They are in fine fettle under Patrick Shelley, who has lovingly edited the score and clearly enjoys this piece.
The high point of 19th Italian opera is so often the second act finale with its processionals, offstage bands and always enthusiastic chorus of onlooking townsfolk. Unsurprisingly it duly gets a full-blown, climactic delivery though not without some rough edges in ensemble and balance. Considering it’s the only disc available, one can put up with such shortcomings and thank Dorset Opera for their enterprise, first in staging it and now in producing the CD.
And by the way, if you want to see a self-portrait of Salvator Rosa, he is in Room 32 at the National Gallery in London. The inscription on the paper he is holding reads in effect, ‘Shut up unless you have something worthwhile to say’. Perhaps, in view of Gomes’ opera, it should have been ‘sing’?