Donizetti: Ugo, conte de Parigi

Review by: Robert Levine

Artistic Quality: 7

Sound Quality: 6

Composed right before L’Elisir d’amore, Ugo, conte de Parigi was a moderate success despite its awful libretto, which had to be changed drastically to please the censors. Ugo was Donizetti’s first big deal with La Scala, and the cast–Giuditta Pasta, Giulia Grisi, Domenico Donzelli–was the same as had triumphed in Bellini’s Norma three months before at the same theater.

The plot: Ugo (tenor) is loyal to Louis V (mezzo-soprano), whose fiancée, Bianca (soprano), loves Ugo (and hates Louis, although we never discover why). Bianca’s sister Adelia (soprano) also is in love with Ugo, and they become engaged. The madly jealous Bianca announces her love for Ugo, which enrages Louis, much to the delight of Falco (bass), who would like the crown to go to his own family, the house of Anjou. Ugo is arrested by Louis as disloyal, and Bianca tries to convince Ugo to lead a revolt against Louis, but he refuses. Ugo’s troops nonetheless start a revolt and Ugo stops it, convincing Louis of his loyalty. Ugo and Adelia get married and Bianca takes poison, leaving Adelia “[her] hatred and [her] love.” Emma (mezzo) is Louis’ mother. Librettist Felice Romani demanded that his name be taken off the program.

There’s much entertaining music in Ugo, but it lacks a truly memorable melody or two of the type that we find in Donizetti’s best operas. In the first act, Folco’s opening scene is stirring, Bianca’s entrance aria is lovely, and a duet for Bianca and Adelia starts well but fizzles out; the 20-minute finale, which begins with a quintet, is a fine piece. In Act 2, a trio for the sisters and Ugo is splendid, an aria for Louis is mediocre, and a duet for Bianca and Emma is touching–but the following aria-finale for Bianca somehow doesn’t quite work.

The performance recorded here, taped live in October 2003, is pretty good, but a previous recording on Opera Rara is far superior. The present Ugo, Yasuharu Nakajima, is better than Opera Rara’s and sings with passion and genuinely Italianate tone. Doina Dimitriu’s Bianca improves as the show progesses, and while she’s sensitive, involved, and quite a well-trained singer, her tone can grate seriously when she’s not singing softly (which she does quite well). The Adelia, Carmen Giannattasio, is much better–it would be nice to hear more of her. Dejan Vatchkov’s bass is big, round, and expressive as Folco; Emma is well-enough sung by Milijana Nikolic. Sim Tokyurek, the Luigi, is wrongly identified as a male alto; she is a mezzo, and for the most part, she’s dreadful. Orchestra and chorus are good enough, and the leadership of Antonino Fogliani is energetic. The sound is overly bright. Go for the Opera Rara performance: it is far more idiomatic, and the women in the show–Janet Price, Yvonne Kenny, Della Jones, and Eiddwen Harrhy–are superb, while their counterparts here are not.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Opera Rara

GAETANO DONIZETTI - Ugo, Conte di Parigi

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