I had to go to Amazon's UK store to get this beauty and am so glad that I did. The other reviewers have described what a hugely melodious and well performed opera this is and I concur. It is one of many "forgotten operas" that amply justifies the ongoing renaissance in the bel canto period.
The story seems to fit the "silly plot" reason many past and some present music scholars use to denegrate anything that is not Wagner, verismo or very late Verdi (which is itself ludicrous, but that discussion is for another time and place). But the story of a woman divorced by her husband for failure to produce an heir is replete with dramatic moments, which Donizetti presents perfectly with music and which stage director Roberto Rizzi Brignoli makes the most of in his thankfully traditional staging. The confrontation betwenn ex-wife Gemma and wife-to-be Ida is very tense and well done.
Maria Agresta (Gemma) is a wonder! Hers is a huge, supple voice, capable of runs and trills and pianissimi galore. There is no extended top, so I am sure that some will criticize her much in the same way as they do Netrebko. Nonetheless, she does a superlative job in a role that has her doing a lot of extended singing. I hope that we see and hear more of her. Brava!!
As her husband, Il Conte di Vergy, Mario Cassi is excellent. His is a really rich baritone and he executes his part to near perfection. And he can act.
As his lieutenant Guido, baritone Leonardo Galeazzi is similarly gifted. His is a lovely mellifluous voice, nicely produced through the range.
Tenor Gregory Kunde (Tamas) has been singing for a long time and it shows. The voice is a bit dry and there is a bit of a wobble from time to time. While he hits all the notes, I hear some strain on the high notes, many of which end quickly, suggesting some breath issues. He has excellent stage presence and the audience clearly likes his work.
Disc quality is quite good as far as the picture goes, but in the age of HD and DTS surround, whatever were the folks at Bongiovanni thinking when this disc was issued in stereo only sound format? Hopefully this issue will be resolved by them in future releases. It would have occasioned a one star subtraction, except for the fact that this splendid work will probably not see another DVD release any time soon and the performance is simply superb.
Edit: Having seen an "unauthorized" DVD of Agresta doing I Puritani, my earlier comment on her lack of an extended top is dead wrong. She's the real deal!!