Belisario, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Mark Elder, Barbican

5.00

 

The performance-history of Donizetti’s tragedia lirica ‘Belisario’ speaks volumes about changing tastes.

Premiered in Venice in 1836, and over the following eight years being produced in Milan, Naples, Vienna, London, Berlin, Paris, Philadelphia, and New York - the Americans were operatically up to speed even at that early date - it was a bel canto staple until that vogue passed in the late 19th century, and it remained in limbo until its Venetian revival in 1969.

But it’s still seldom performed: the general theory is that the plot’s lack of a love-interest has been to blame for its overshadowing by the same composer’s more popular ‘Lucia di Lammermoor’, and Donizetti himself preferred the latter work, which does have better tunes.

The plot of ‘Belisario’ has a very classical thrust. Set in sixth-century Byzantium, it turns on whether the eponymous general is a traitor to his emperor Justinian, and whether he has murdered his own son; his wife Antonina uses forged documents to prove the former, and Belisario is punished by blinding and imprisonment; he is finally vindicated, but dies heroically in battle. In this framework, Donizetti deploys devices which Verdi would go on to perfect, notably the male ‘friendship’ duet and the father-daughter duet; the revenge aria sung by the young warrior Alamiro - outraged at the barbarity of Belisario’s punishment - anticipates its equivalent in Verdi’s ‘Il trovatore’.

The reason why this concert performance conducted by Mark Elder at the Barbican was so successful was because he and his singers - plus the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the BBC Singers - had spent the week recording it for the Opera Rara label. And the cast was particularly strong, with Alastair Miles’s grave Justinian presiding over a vividly characterful young cast.

Tenor Russell Thomas’s Alamiro had a lovely ping to his expressive upper register, while soprano Camilla Roberts brought power and conviction to the protagonist’s daughter Irene. And in Nicola Alaimo’s Belisario and Joyce El-Khoury’s Antonina we got an ideal pairing, his resonant Sicilian baritone wonderfully complemented by the silky perfection of her sound, and by the Callas-like way she shaped her lines – I long to see and hear her perform again.

If this performance is anything to go by, Opera Rara’s Cd will make an incontrovertible case for this austere but prophetically Verdian work.

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test