Opera Rara’s latest release of Donizetti’s Le Duc D’Albe joins its incomparable discography of the great composer’s masterworks.
Opera lovers are alerted to a major audio disc release just out from Britain’s trail-blazing Opera Rara label. Following on the heels of its multiple award-winning recording of Donizetti’s French grand opera, Les Martyrs, the company’s latest two-disc set, comprising the first two acts of Donizetti’s unfinished masterwork, Le Duc d’Albe, adds further lustre to its priceless catalogue of rarely recorded works penned by the great 19th century composer.
Listeners are assured of a riveting experience while exploring the many treasures to be found in this magnificent torso of a work, set in Spanish-occupied 16th century Flanders. First begun in May 1839, the second half of Donizetti’s projected four-act work was still on the drawing board at the time of his untimely death almost a decade later. The work’s incompletion was due to ongoing delays caused by the Paris Opéra’s dilatory management, who put one obstacle after another in the path of its staging, until its composer had finally succumbed to the illness which killed him in 1848.
Sir Mark Elder, Opera Rara’s artistic director, is on typically commanding form here at the helm Manchester’s renowned Hallé Orchestra. The recording’s stellar cast is headed by the dazzlingly accomplished American soprano, Angela Meade, making her long-awaited recording debut as the heroic Hélène D’Egmont, who rallies the Flemish people against their Spanish oppressors.
The magnificent Ms Meade, a renowned Metropolitan Opera star, appears opposite her gifted compatriot, tenor Michael Spyres who as the young Flemish patriot, Henri de Burges, returns to the Opera Rara fold following his acclaimed company debut in last year’s Les Martyrs.
Hailed by an online reviewer of the new recording as a ‘partnership made in heaven’, the two young American stars send sparks flying: anyone experiencing the thrill of their visceral singing will have no hesitation in agreeing with this verdict (sample their splendid high E flats, sung in unison at the rousing conclusion of track 23 on the second CD, which if delivered in a live performance would bring the house down).
Among the set’s many other highlights, a stand-out is Meade’s heart-rending account (on CD 2, track 6) of ‘Ton ombre mumure, o mon père’, Hélène’s imprecation to her dead father, the Flemish Count Egmont, beheaded by the Spanish before the opera begins. One of Donizetti’s great melodies, this number alone is worth the asking price of this set, gloriously brought to life by Meade’s incandescent artistry, the shimmering colours and tints of her warm, supple soprano instrument superbly reinforcing her opalesque tones and fine-spun phrasing.
French baritone Laurent Naouri sings the title role of Le Duc d’Albe, governor of Flanders, with immense distinction, making this an essential addition to one’s collection of highly recommended recordings.
1) 'Le Duc d'Albe' Opera Rara album cover
2) Angela Meade photo by Dario Acosta
3) Michael Spyres photo by Darcy Borghardt