This recording of Beatrice di Tenda is just one among the many very great bel canto recordings that Joan Sutherland and Richard Bonynge did. This opera is not often performed and even Dame Joan did not sing the role of Beatrice on stage more than 5 times. There is two live recordings catching Sutherland in this role; both are notable for supreme singing and bad sound quality. This Decca studio recording dating from 1966 is better. Joan Sutherland was very much in her vocal prime at that time; her large, agile and above all extremely beautiful voice stunned the whole world. The role of Beatrice is not an easy one, but for Dame Joan it certainly seemed to be. All elements are in place. The thrills, the portamentos and the top notes (several gigantic high e flats and even e naturals)...what more can one beg for??? Well, perhaps diction and dramatic intensity, but that does not matter much. The rest of the cast is also good indeed, but only Sutherland is at Sutherland-level. That must also be said about the other superstar on this recording: Luciano Pavarotti. He was at the beginning of his career and this was his first recorded collaboration with Sutherland and Bonynge (with La Fille de Regiment soon to come). As for the conducting, we must admit that there are better conductors than Richard Bonynge. However, he was a specialist in the field of bel canto and his sense for details suits this music very well. Over the years he got better and better (sadly Sutherland got worse), but he is good here (in 1966) too. I have always liked his conducting, whereas others have not. On the third cd there are some "bonuses"; Sutherland sings Bellini arias: taken from the Sutherland/Bonynge recordings on Decca. The recording of "Casta Diva" from 1964 is remarkable, probably one of the best around.
Beatrice di Tenda is a beautiful opera deserving to be better known. Perhaps not on the same level as Sonnambula, Norma or Puritani, it still offers glorious melodies, great arias and exciting finales. This set, the first studio recording, made in 1966 still holds itself very well. Joan Sutherland made the role of Beatrice her own in the early 1960's, singing it in Milan and New York. She is here on top of things with beautiful, poised singing, capturing the dignity and sorrow of the heroine very well. Cornelius Opthof is a menacing and malevolant enough Fillipo, Josephine Veasey is a superb Agnese and as Orombello we have a very young Luciano Pavarotti at his best. Beautifully conducted by Richard Bonynge and excellent sound. Strongly recommended to Bellini lovers.
'Beatrice di Tenda' strikes me as an oddly neglected Bellini opera, wedged as it is between 'Norma' and 'I Puritani'. It's a highly dramatic (possibly melodramatic) piece set in medieval Italy and tells the tale of a man who has climbed to power and fame on the back of his wife and is now tired of her and wants to move on. He takes advantage of the infatuation of a young courtier for the wife (Beatrice) and brings about the unfortunate lady's execution as a result! Stirring stuff and Bellini does not disappoint with the musical setting. I was particularly struck with the important part played by the chorus, especially the male chorus and there are several passages where one thinks of Verdi ('Rigoletto' in particular). The ensembles are splendid and I especially love the Act 1 finale where the heroine gets to show off her coloratura against the background chorus.
The title role is a demanding one and Joan Sutherland is fantastic here. Its true that she is a shade uninvolved dramatically - I would have liked less 'droop' and more 'fire' in some places - but she is vocally brilliant. There is an excellent 'villain' role in Filippo who presages not only Riccardo ('I Puritani') but also Il Conte di Luna in Verdi's 'Il Trovatore' and all those other brooding Verdi baritones - here the role is well sung by Cornelius Opthof. The other two main roles of Orombello and Agnese pretty much disappear in Act 2 (apart from the melting trio 'Angiol di pace') but they have much more to do in the first act and are in the capable hands of Luciano Pavarotti and Josephine Veasey respectively. I think Veasey is especially wonderful and her opening distant romanza with harp is one of my favourite parts of the whole opera!
In short, 'Beatrice' is a wonderful piece. The recording just misses out on a star because I do feel that it could use just a bit more dramatic fire in places to do justice to the libretto but on the whole, its very satisfying.
Musically, this opera is probably on a par with "Zaira", which I recently reviewed. His penultimate opera, it was written relatively late in Bellini's short career but does not really mark any kind of advance in style or accomplishment and remains somewhat generic, without many of the arresting moments that make his greatest operas so popular. Of course there are some lovely things and it is at the least a well-crafted work. I would give it three stars were it not for the outstanding quality of the singing. Sutherland is as you would expect in 1966; phenomenally free and agile in her coloratura, liberal with the top C's, D's, E's and even an F, a bit bland of expression, diction largely unintelligible especially when considered alongside the forward clarity of Pavarotti's singing. Her fans will know what to expect and any devotee of bel canto will admire her command. Pavarotti is...well, Pavarotti, even in this his first recording with Joanie: clean, clear, beautiful, easy singing with tons of "ping". Unknown baritone Cornelius Opthof treats us to his neat, expressive, light baritone (the only other recording of his I have seen is a disc of Verdi highlights with fellow Dutch singer Christina Deutekom). Mezzo Josephine Veasey is stunning as Agnese and makes me wonder if she is not still under-valued. I love her fast vibrato and attack; she despatches her set pieces with ease and élan. Bonynge is a bit perfunctory and the LSO rather disengaged - but I suspect that is a function of the rather anonymous music, which seems to aspire to greater drama than it actually generates. There is a fair bit of conventional posturing, but with singers this good I'm sure it would be very exciting live. I will play it as a canary fancier but not to experience real emotional engagement; even comparatively early works like "Il Pirata" (1827) and "La Straniera" (1829) do that much better.
Lastly, there is a wonderful bonus in the form of Sutherland singing excerpts from Bellini's three greatest operas, "Norma", "I Puritani" and "La sonnambula", all recorded in the early 60's and all finding her in best voice.
A wonerderful recording of Beatrice di Tenda. Not as famous as some of his operas, but still full of wonderful music, set to a not to difficult storyline. Full libretto included. Get this while you can and marvel at Dame Joan.