All eyes on Opera Rara…

At this year’s prestigious OPUS KLASSIK Awards, the Opera Rara recording label took centre-stage. Its success in winning the plaudits of the judges with a handsome CD set of a little-known opera by Offenbach, La Princesse de Trebizonde, has very much put the spotlight on a discerning recording initiative. Their latest release, Donizetti’s equally rare (1828) L’esule di Roma – ‘the exile from Rome’ – brings the work of opera conductor, Carlo Rizzi, to the fore, once again, as well as reminding us that 225 years have passed since Donizetti’s birth.

Rizzi, for many years associated with Welsh National Opera, has a rich and varied repertoire and endeared himself very much to audiences at the New Theatre, Cardiff, home of WNO, during the heyday of his tenure. The maestro’s Italianate ‘light touch’ – as opposed to the Teutonic heft of mid- to late-19th century opera – is put to great use in the bel canto genre of Donizetti. Yet this particular piece has many of the hallmarks of ‘heroic opera’, set as it is in the reign of Tiberius – whose opponents have been vanquished by General Publius, an outcome hailed by all it seems, except the Senator Murena, father of the beautiful Argelia, who has mysteriously disappeared… The reason: the ardent Septimus (the son of a man exiled by Murena) has returned to win Argelia’s heart – freely given – a situation which leads to his imprisonment. There is the unnerving unravelling of a political conspiracy, and the mental breakdown of Murena, who has condemned Septimus to death – but then, the eventual pardon and reuniting with Argelia – a typically joyful end for an opera of this era. 

Bass-baritone Nicola Alaimo, bel canto soprano Albina Shagimuratova, and tenor Sergey Romanovsky in the title role, lead the cast – supported by that orchestral precision-instrument, Britten Sinfonia, whose ensemble size as a chamber orchestra make it perfect for those intense moments for the romantic duo at the heart of this Roman epic – and yet also capable of the grand moment (a prelude, perhaps, to the age of Verdi). And what a combination the leading stars make: each scene and aria outshining the previous, giving the opera a sense of unrelenting drama, with no feeling of drift or dullness, just an immersion into the fate of the exile, and the pain of internal exile, in the stifling atmosphere of Tiberius’s citadel.

With an excellent CD booklet (synopsis, artist profiles etc.) the new discs are a firm recommendation for those who relish front-rank operatic performance, the intrigue and passion of Ancient Rome, and recordings capable of evoking the radiant, searing sounds of the opera house.

CD details: Donizetti, L’esule di Roma, Opera Rara, (ORC64)