At the Royal Opera House a year of repertoire and new work closes with a brilliant coda. Donizetti's L'Ange de Nisida, painstakingly constructed from an, at times, almost indecipherable score, was set aside in 1840 when the Théâtre de la Renaissance, overstretched in the busy and competitive Paris music and drama scene, went bust.
The prolific composer ploughed on apace – a cartoon of the day shows Donizetti writing a comedy with one hand and a tragic opera with the other – and repurposed some of the material of L'Ange into his tragedy La Favorite. Already a celebrated composer in Italy, success in Paris was now his goal, and French the language of his librettos.
The music scholar Candida Mantica has spent years piecing together the inky pages of Donizetti left behind, and the result is a revelation. One of the delights of L'Ange that did not transfer to La Favorite is a comic element supplied by the oily and bumptious aide to the King of Naples. This Don Gaspar belongs to a colourful dynasty of operatic fixers who run from Mozart's Leporello through Rossini's Figaro to Gilbert and Sullivan's many self-important high-ups.
In the first of two concert performances of this great discovery, Laurent Nouari's Gaspar is alone worth the price of admission, and every bass-baritone will want to put the hilarious 'Ma puissance n'est pas mince' in their recital programme. Aficionados may recognise in it some elements of the comedy Don Pasquale.
But future singers may not have the advantage of back-up from the Orchestra and Chorus of the Royal Opera House, rising to the occasion in this landmark event under conductor Sir Mark Elder, already a proven champion of neglected Donizetti works. From its first rousing birthday gallop and swelling anthems to Verdian conspiratorial whispers and monastic offstage devotions, the always reliable chorus is on terrific form.
Released from the pit and seated up on stage, the orchestra gets a rare showing, and responds with exhilarating playing and distinguished solo work.
We are accustomed to visually brilliant productions at Covent Garden, but when the music along does all the work, the rewards can be as great for singer and listener alike. As the king's mistress Silvia – the charitable 'angel' of the title – the soprano Joyce El-Khoury brings glamour, passion and poignancy to a many-layered role. Like Verdi's Violetta in La Traviata, for which El-Khoury has already made her name all over the world, including at Covent Garden and Glyndebourne, Silvia is torn between the life of a courtesan and true love but, on choosing the latter, loses her hold on life. El-Khoury's scintillating command of soaring and diving passages will be there for all to enjoy when this opera comes out on CD in 2019.
The Korean tenor David Junghoon Kim grew in the role of her lover Leone, but you could hope for better communication even in the context of a concert performance. There is great singing from Vito Priante as the king and Evgeny Stavinsky as the father superior. His pious presence prompts lines in at times comical English surtitles such as 'and what's worse, I thought I saw the monk nearby...', but it's the music that counts, and over three hours it never flags.
The question running through the mind of every engrossed member of the audience must have been: how did this slip through the net? To be hearing this opera for the first time is an event indeed. Catch it before it disappears, for now, at the second and last performance on Sat 21 July. And hope that Covent Garden will slate a full-scale production. Watch this space...
'L'Ange de Nisida' is sung in French with English surtitles. There is one more performance on 21 July. The opera is released on CD by Opera Rara in 2019
|What||L'Ange de Nisida review , Royal Opera House|
|Where||Royal Opera House, Bow Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 9DD | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Covent Garden (underground)|
18 Jul 18 – 21 Jul 18, 7:30 PM – 10:30 PM
|Price||£7 - £100|
|Website||Click here for more information and booking|