Donizetti: Diluvio Universale

Review by: Robert Levine

Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 9

Donizetti’s Il diluvio universale was premiered in 1830 during Lent. It is, of course, an opera on a religious theme, but it was also a no-no to call it an opera during Lent, hence the appellation “azione tragico-sacra”. Donizetti already had a series of hits under his belt, but Anna Bolena, the opera that cemented his reputation all over Europe, was still 10 months away. Il diluvio… was not a success, but that may have been due to faulty or inadequate stage machinery unable to present the final flood in any manner that impressed. At any rate, the opera sank after 1834, only to pop up in Genoa in 1985 (a pretty good performance of that revival, on various labels and in poor sound, appears and disappears periodically) and then went back under. It was performed at London’s Drury Lane in 2005 and this recording grew out of those performances. It is an excellent rendition of a good, but hardly great, mid-period Donizetti opera.

There’s nothing actually wrong with the opera; it simply isn’t gripping and does not live up to the grandeur of the story. Yes, it’s about Noah and his omnipresent ark, but in this retelling, Sela, wife of Noah’s great enemy, Cadmo, the chief of the idol-worshiping Satraps, is a believer in Noah’s God and is torn between faith and husband. Her rival, Ada, plots to take her place in Cadmo’s household by snitching on her and implying that she and Noah’s son, Jafet, are an item. So Cadmo bans her from seeing, let alone praying with, Noah’s family or he’ll lock them all in the ark and set it on fire. To save them all, Sela returns to Cadmo, but when he demands that she curse the “God of Adam” she chokes on the words and dies. The rains come, and you know the rest.

The opera is tuneful and energetic, but it lacks memorable melodies. Donizetti completists will enjoy it and smile at how a melody from a serious aria of Noah’s later shows up wittily in La fille du regiment. Otherwise, there are fine ensembles, a truly grand prayer (troublingly reminiscent of Moses’ before the parting of the Red Sea in Rossini’s Mose in Egitto heard in 1819), and an aria and duet or two to keep the interest and the passions working.

Majella Cullagh’s bright tone and sincere, forward delivery are just right for the put-upon-but-strong Sela, and she handles the coloratura passages as well as she does Donizetti’s long, gentler lines. As the wicked Ada, mezzo Manuela Custer sings with clarity and energy, with pointed diction and fine, subtle inflections to poison Cadmo’s mind. The voice itself, however, sounds somewhat tentative and rough at times.

The young tenor Colin Lee makes the most of the under-composed role of Cadmo; he’s got style and a good-sized voice. Mirco Palazzi’s Noah (Noè in Italian) is commanding, but he is hardly in the Raimondi/Ghiaurov class–the voice turns grainy when it ought to boom. Still, he makes a fine impression. The supporting cast is quite good with Jafet, Noah’s oldest son, particularly well sung by Simon Bailey.

There is no faulting Giuliano Carella’s leadership, and as usual the Geoffrey Mitchell Choir and LPO sing and play with passion and great accuracy. This recording makes the best possible case for this odd work, and is highly recommended.



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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: this is it

GAETANO DONIZETTI - Il diluvio universale


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