Opera Rara's fine new rendering of Vincenzo Bellini's Il Pirata is cause for unequivocal celebration, starring tenor José Bros, soprano Carmen Giannattasio and baritone Ludovic Tézier, with David Parry tautly at the helm of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. As ever with this distinguished British label, the release is handsomely packaged and boasts exemplary notes along with a full libretto and translation. Composed in 1827 for La Scala, Milan, the work was written for three of the greatest singers of the age, the tenor Giovanni Battista Rubini, the soprano Henriette Meric-Lalande and bass, Luigi Lablanche. In common with all but one of Bellini's mature operas, the work is set to a libretto by Felice Romani. It centres around a `sturm-und-drang' melodrama that provides plenty of meat for lusty emoting: Imogene has been married against her will in a futile attempt to save her father's life. She is deserted by her lover (Ernesto, the bandit title role character), and is accused of adultery by her husband. He is killed by Ernesto, who is then condemned to death. Imogen promptly loses her reason and, true to form, delivers one of the most celebrated `mad scenes' in all opera, complete with a haunting Cor anglais obbligato that anticipates the famous flute solo in Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor mad scene. Never mind the doom and gloom, Bellini's high-powered score sweeps all before it. Opera Rara's superb recording marks the first significant studio-generated account of the work since EMI's 1971 release starred Montserrat Caballé opposite her tenor husband, Bernabe Martí, and baritone Piero Cappuccilli, with the veteran Italian maestro Gianandrea Gavazzeni conducting. A live recording with Callas from the late 50's is marred by inadequate sound and crippling cuts, and a Berlin-based release from the mid 90's is sabotaged by the tepid singing of limp Callas clone, Lucia Aliberti. By contrast, Opera Rara's principals leave nothing to be desired. Each is on top form, Ms Giannattasio particularly so, and devotees who have followed the recording career of this rising Italian star will not be disappointed. In this, possibly her finest recording to date, the soprano displays magnificent attack. She soars seamlessly aloft in the opera's notoriously demanding duets and ensembles, culminating in a fearlessly sung 'mad scene' that erupts into thrillingly articulated coloratura crowned by a powerful top register which more than holds its own against Callas and Caballé. The finely-etched, ever-stylish singing of Mr Bros recalls the great Alfredo Kraus, while Tezier's darkly dramatic baritone provides the ideal foil for his bright tenor tones. News that Il pirata will be followed by a further keenly anticipated Opera Rara release of Donizetti's rarely performed Caterina Cornaro soon with Giannattasio on the title role is further cause for jubilation. Meanwhile, don't hesitate to acquire this marvellous set.