Linda di Chamounix, Royal Opera, September 2009Posted on 8 September 2009
This late work by Donizetti was written for a Viennese audience and first performed in May 1842, then revised for Paris in November the same year. It was a great success, but its rather silly plot is now little known, so I’ll give a brief synopsis. Linda is a very pretty peasant, loved by, and in love with, an apparently impecunious artist named Carlo. Unfortunately the local Marquis has designs on Linda, and her father Antonio is dependent on him for the renewal of their lease. To add to the complication, Carlo is the nephew of the Marquis, a fact hidden from everyone. But before things can come to a head, the young men arrange to go to Paris to perform as street entertainers during the winter months when there is no work, and the local Prefect persuades Linda’s father that she should go with them to keep out of the Marquis’s clutches. Carlo follows her, reveals his true identity, and in Paris sets up a stylish home with her. Carlo’s mother hears of it and makes immediate arrangements for her son to marry a member of the aristocracy. In the meantime, the Marquis visits to persuade Linda to leave with him, but is firmly rebuffed. Then Antonio visits seeking help, and when faced with his daughter, living in luxury, he disowns her. Now comes news of Carlo’s forthcoming marriage, and Linda goes mad. Unlike Lucia di Lammermoor however, this all ends happily. Linda returns to Chamounix with her friend, the orphan Pierotto, and is cured by the sound of music, first from Pierotto, then from Carlo, who sings the words they shared when they first met. The whole village then rejoices in anticipation of their wedding. Rather like Act I of Giselle in reverse.
This was a concert performance, brilliantly conducted by Mark Elder, and the cast, headed by Elise Gutierrez as Linda, and Stephen Costello as a gloriously voiced Carlo, was excellent. The father and mother, Antonio and Maddalena were strongly sung by Ludovic Tezier and Elizabeth Sikora, with Balint Szabo singing a firm bass as the Prefect, and Marianna Pizzolato in the contralto part of Pierotto. But the star of the show for me was Alessandro Corbelli as the Marquis. His voice expressed so well the pomposity of the role, and even his entrances and exits were comic masterpieces. He and the young American, Stephen Costello, who was making his debut at Covent Garden, were a delight to watch with their body language helping to express their feelings, even in this concert performance.
Finally it’s worth mentioning that the stage was beautifully lit for the orchestra and chorus, and the dimmed lighting of the auditorium added to the effect, with the dome lit in blue from two lights in the orchestra pit. A very attractive ‘production’, even if it was merely a concert, and I would gladly see more unusual operas like this. An excellent start to the new season for the Royal Opera House.