Vincenzo Bellini (1801-1835)
Bianca e Fernando
Salome Jicia – Bianca (soprano)
Giorgio Misseri – Fernando (tenor)
Nicola Ulivieri – Filippo (bass)
Alessio Cacciamani – Carlo (bass)
Production designed and directed by Hugo de Ana
Chorus of the Opera Carlo Felice Genova;
Orchestra of the Opera Carlo Felice Genova/Donato Renzetti
rec. live, 30 November, 2021 Opera Carlo Felice, Genova, Italy
Booklet with notes in Italian and English
Dynamic Blu-ray 57954 [148]

Bellini’s opera Bianca e Fernando was the opera which inaugurated the newly-built opera house in Genova in 1828. The theatre was christened “Carlo Felice” as a tribute to the reigning Duke of Savoy, a name which remains on the theater to this day. For the occasion, Bellini chose to re-work his earlier Naples success Bianca e Gernando with the help of the popular librettist Felice Romani.  The venture was considered a triumph all-round and helped the composer to gain a prestigious commission from La Scala to write La Straniera the following year.

With this production the Carlo Felice management has staged a brand new production of the opera just seven years shy of the 200th anniversary by engaging the well-known Italian director Hugo de Ana to put together one of his customary extravaganzas. After watching this Blu-ray I can only estimate the effect that De Ana’s strong design sense had upon the audience in Genova but I am not convinced that it translates well to home viewing. The strange but impressive set consists of a very large sphere that has been severed so that the audience peers into its interior, rather as if a globe had been cut in half to look inside. Much of the action occurs just outside of this concave device.  The opera’s period has been updated to the composer’s time, and de Ana has contrived to fill the production with an array of other spherical objects to alter the basic setting for scene changes, including large rings, a giant classical bas-relief medallion, and a huge armillary sphere. While the principal singers generally move as one might expect according to the plot, de Ana has filled the stage with a group of mimes which always seem to be in motion no matter what else is going on. In the theater this probably had the effect of making the opera seem much less static than it is, but for home viewing it is extremely distracting and at times provokes mild irritation.

My only previous encounter with music from this opera was in the memorable musical duel scene from the 1988 film “The Music Teacher”, where two masked tenors display their techniques while singing the hero’s beautiful cavatina from Act One “A tanto duol”. In the film French tenor Jérôme Pruett phrased the aria with tonal beauty and a superbly flowing line. Hearing this same aria as sung here by Giorgio Misseri, it sounds like a different piece of music entirely. Misseri is good looking and he wear’s his period costumes well but his acting is somewhat stiff, and vocally his performance is a mixed bag. His voice is thankfully clear and free of wobbles, yet often his musical phrases emerge with an almost parched sound and he unwisely attempts a couple of high F’s that frankly, would have been better suppressed.

The marvelous acting of Nicola Ulivieri’s Filippo cannot be faulted. He is riveting in every scene in which he appears. His experience of concentrated projection of a character onstage all but steals the opera from the other performers. While he is not the Bel canto bass of one’s dreams, his voice emerges  warmly, if a little wooly-sounding during his cabaletta. Quite honestly, his impressive air of authority and a spine-chilling sneer are reason enough to acquire this Blu-ray.

The most accomplished singing comes from the rising Georgian soprano Salome Jicia. She happens to be blessed with a pure, golden tone that glints with touches of chiaroscurro and she displays great technical assurance throughout her role. For her big aria in Act Two “Sorgi, o padre” she unfolds Bellini’s long ribbon-like lines with perfect vocal poise. Her acting is sincere and engaged if not on Ulivieri’s level.

Donato Renzetti leads a pumped-up looking orchestra in an account of the score that alternates between sensitive and propulsive. I do think that the Overture could do with an infusion of more excitement than it receives from Renzetti.  In musical terms there are a couple of sequences that are worth the occasional airing, not least the two arias mentioned above and a really fine terzetto in Act One.  I found it fascinating to identify some musical passages that Bellini would later reuse with slight changes in both I Puritani and Norma. It was a genuine surprise to discover that the heroine’s first cabaletta would eventually become Norma’s “Ah! bello a me ritorna”. The picture and sound of this release are on par with the best in the Dynamic catalogue. Overall it is a worthy acquisition that, while not quite perfect, will do for those wishing to add Bellini’s rarity to their collection. Quite possibly this will be the only video of this opera ever to be made available.

Mike Parr

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Additional cast members
Giovanni Battista Parodi – Clemente (Bass)
Elena Belfiore – Viscardo (mezzo)
Carlotta Vichi – Eloisa (mezzo)
Antonio Mannarino – Uggero (tenor)
Additional production details
Assistant director – Filippo Tonon
Assistant set designer – Nathalie Deana
Assistant costume designer – Cristina Aceti
Lighting designer – Valerio Alfieri
Video director – Tiziano Mancini
Technical specifications
Region code: All regions
Sound formats: PCM Stereo 2.0; DTS HD Master Audio 5.1
Video: 1080i 60 BD 50
Subtitles: Italian, English, French, German, Korean, Japanese