Bellini’s Bianca e Gernando In Splendid First Recording

Review by: Robert Levine


Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 8

This, Bellini’s second opera (actually the first, after the student production Adelson e Salvini) got off to a poor start: scheduled for January 1826 at the Teatro San Carlo Naples, and called Bianca e Fernando, it was canceled before the premiere either due to the unavailability of the lead soprano, or more likely, because Ferdinando was the name of the heir to the throne of Naples, and no form of the name of a living monarch was permitted to be used on the stage. On May 30, 1826 the opera was presented with the “Fernando” changed to “Gernando”, and all was well–it was a great success.

And while “Adelson” was clearly a student work with some awkward moments and a strange comic character, no excuse need be made for “Bianca…”; it may not be as polished as Puritani or Norma, but it has great baritone/tenor and soprano/tenor duets, two fine terzetti, an equally lovely scena for soprano, and some very high-flying music for both leads. The tenor part was composed for stratospherically-gifted Giovanni Battista Rubini. The finale of the first act is a particularly fine piece. Donizetti called the opera “beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.”

At the Ducal palace in Agrigento, Filippo has two main purposes: to marry the lovely Bianca, and to kill her father, Carlo, whom Bianca believes to already be dead, but who in fact is Filippo’s prisoner. Filippo assigns an unknown soldier at court, Gernando, to kill Carlo, not knowing that he is Carlo’s son. Bianca and Gernando are brother and sister but do not recognize one another. Bianca sees Gernando as a villain, but once they realize their relationship they free their father and Filippo gets what’s coming to him.

This a very good performance, recorded live at Bad Wildbad in July, 2016. It begins with a fine bass voice, that of Zong Shi as Clemente, a member of the court of the Duke, whose voice he thinks he hears. It’s a scene that sets the mood well. Gernando enters and sings of his fate and the palace, in an aria that flies often above high C. Tenor Maxim Mironov, a bel canto specialist whose Rossini roles are much admired, exhibits a slim, flexible voice with secure coloratura (there’s lots of Rossini-like writing in this opera) and stunning high notes, getting stronger as the opera progresses.

Enter Filippo, who after a somewhat lackluster aria finds himself in an excellent trio with Gernando and Viscardo, one of Filippo’s henchmen. Filippo is sung by the expressive baritone Vittorio Prato, who matches the others in runs and thirds. His is a weak character–one minute villainous, the next nervous about losing his power.

Silvia Dalla Benetta sings Bianca with naiveté at first, believing Filippo in her first aria, expressing even more love and innocence at the start of Act 2 in her lovely harp-and-woodwind-accompanied romanza, “Sorgi o padre”, in which she is joined by her confidante, Eloisa, sung nicely by mezzo Mar Campo. She and Gernando then sing a dazzling duet of recognition. An interlude brings us to Duke Carlo’s cell, where Luca Dall’Amica’s bass expresses the Duke’s misery before his kids arrive to rescue him in a rather quick ending.

Conductor Antonino Fogliani is totally sympathetic to style and singers, eliciting crisp playing from the Virtuosi Brunensis and building tension toward the scene in Carlo’s cell. The chorus can be a bit too enthusiastic at times, but the orchestra is remarkable. This set is a wonderful addition to the Bellini catalog.

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Recording Details:

  • Silvia Dalla Benetta (soprano); Maxim Mironov (tenor); Vittorio Prato (baritone); Luca Dall'Amico, Zong Shi (bass)
  • Camerata Bach Choir, Poznan, Virtuosi Brunensis, Antonino Fogliani

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