Konzerthaus Berlin 2022-23 Review: Dalinda

Berlin Opera Company Delights with World Premiere of Long-Lost Donizetti Opera

By Zenaida des Aubris

This must be a musicologist’s dream: while digging around in musty books in the quiet atmosphere of the library of a music conservatory, to come upon scores by Gaetano Donizetti and realizing that this is not yet another version of “Lucrezia Borgia” (there had been  but, in fact, a different opera. Similar in plot and with music passages strongly reminiscent of that opera, but different, nonetheless. Donizetti was a prolific composer – he wrote about 70 works – but also one who was not shy about copying himself.

Especially, as in this case, the new work “Dalinda” had to be revised because of the rules of censorship in Naples at the time of composition in 1838, with a libretto by Felice Romani. The censor, an upstanding Neapolitan citizen by the name of Francesco Ruffa, had decided that murder by poison was not in the best interests of the community and nixed its performance. Donizetti laid the score aside. Shortly thereafter he moved to Paris, where he had more creative freedom and received better fees.

“Dalinda” must have got lost in the shuffle of the move and ended up in the archives, with some of the individual parts even sold piecemeal in the ensuing years. It was never performed.

Until now.

On May 14, 2023 a semi-staged version was presented by the Berlin Operngruppe at the Konzerthaus in Berlin, Germany. A world premiere after 185 years.

A Culmination

This performance was the culmination of musicologist Eleonora Di Cintio’s meticulous research and detective work in putting the score back together. She rediscovered and identified the score as an opera in its own right and reassembled it over several years – an aria found in the Bergamo archives, a segment in Paris, some in Naples – and edited it critically. Cintio, a renowned musicologist and advisor to Opera Rara and the Wexford Festival, among others, had already noticed “Dalinda” in 2019, together with Donizetti researcher Roger Parker, on the occasion of the reconstruction of the various versions of “Lucrezia Borgia.” Thanks to Casa Ricordi’s publication, the piece that fell to Berlin for its world premiere, is now generally accessible again.

The love triangle drama, set in Persia – or, as noted in the Berlin performance, in present-day Iran-  addressed religious and social intolerances between Muslims and Christians. The censor classified the libretto as immoral, not least because of the parallels to “Lucrezia Borgia,” and rejected it for its “theatrical terror.” The strict censor was ultimately offended by the fact that the Frankish knights are invited to a peace festival, only to be killed at the banquet with poisoned wine.

The plot is complicated. At the time of the Crusades, Dalinda, daughter of the leader of the militant Ismailites, is married to Acmet, the Persian prince of Alamut. But she has an illegitimate son from a premarital liaison with a Christian knight from Frankonia. The son born of this love tryst, Ildemaro, had been given away to be raised as a Christian and searches for his real mother. He arrives at the gardens of Emessa in order to join in the peace celebrations after three years of war between Franks and Saracens. He has received indication that his mother may be at this feast. Dalinda recognizes her son, as she gazes upon him asleep, but does not acknowledge him. Acmet comes upon them, and his jealousy is aroused because he thinks Ildemaro is Dalinda’s lover, but he does not act upon his feelings. When Ildemaro awakes, he is strongly drawn to Dalinda, understandably confused by these feelings.

In the meantime, a group of Frankonian knights speak of Dalinda’s past order to murder members of their families.  When the knights tear off Dalinda’s veil to denounce her for the murder of their relatives, Acmet seeks revenge against the infidels. All are to die by poison, including and especially Ildemaro, whom he still believes to be his wife’s lover. In the end, Dalinda finally reveals herself as the knight’s mother. Too late: Ildemaro dies and Dalinda, in confessing the truth, brings on her own death, by stoning.

The Berliner Operngruppe, founded in 2010 by conductor Felix Krieger, comes together once a year to put on operatic rarities.  Unusually for Germany, this group is mostly privately funded, with little in the way of state subsidies, whereby this year they had a grant from the National Lottery Foundation.

In past years, they have presented “Iris” by Pietro Mascagni, “Betly” and “Two Men and one Woman” both by Gaetano Donizzeti.  The orchestra is recruited from professional freelance musicians, many of them straight out of music conservatories. With their enthusiasm and spirited playing – including an excellent section of horns –  they were one of the evening’s guarantors of success, under the spirited direction of Felix Krieger.

The True Success of ‘Dalinda’

The success of “Dalinda” was also due to the outstanding cast of the three principal roles: dramatic coloratura soprano Lidia Fridman in the title role was a distraught mother, torn between the love for the son she never got to know and her allegiance to her own people, which is not to say to the people of her husband. The demanding title role turned into a personal triumph thanks to her good vocal technique, a timbre that was unmistakable with a metallic foundation, impressive top notes and glowing ornamentation.

The role of her son Ildemaro was taken on by tenor Luciano Ganci. His is a true spinto, equally at home with lyric cantilenas and dramatic strettas, with heroic top notes. He gave the impression of being confident and powerful, filling out the personality of the character with vocal color.

As his antagonist Acmet, Paolo Bordogna proved with his high and velvety shimmering bass-baritone that he really studied the character and personality of the ruler.

Ildemaro’s best friend, Ugo d’Asti, was interpreted by mezzo-soprano Yajie Zhang, with straightforward elegance.  The roles of the Frankonian and Saracen knights were cast with David Ostrek (Corboga), Andrés Moreno García (Elmelik), Kangyoon Shine Lee Tenor (Garniero), Fermin Basterra (Guglielmo), Egor Sergeev (Ridolfo) and Kento Uchiyama (Ubaldo). They could all have been stronger in expression and especially, have better diction.

The chorus of the Berliner Operngruppe, under the direction of their director Steffen Schubert, was placed on the gallery in back of the orchestra. Their elevated position allowed their sound to project very well into the almost sold-out hall of the Konzerthaus almost 1700 seats.

Announced as a semi-staged performance, Giulia Randazzo was responsible for the scenic arrangement. Granted, she had scant space in front the musicians, but the few, banal movements that she had the singers carry out did not add to the understanding or enjoyment of the piece. Moving chairs around, turning them upside down to create altar tables upon which goblets containing poisoned drinks are handed around do not a staging make.

The warmly applauded performance for the principals and the orchestra was once again proof that rousing opera evenings are carried by great voices full of character and a passionate conductor who motivates all those involved. The performance was recorded and there will be a CD release in the near future.


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