The prospect of four solid hours of un-staged opera is enough to strike fear into the hearts of even the most zealous of opera-fans, yet the Royal Opera House’s brief two-performance fling this week with Donizetti’s lesser known masterpiece is an absolute delight.
Though arguably a curious decision to perform such a naturally theatrical piece as this with no staging or set, Linda di Chamounix is surprisingly effective in this format: magnificent soloists and a mighty chorus and orchestra ensure that every nuance of the luxurious bel canto score is communicated, and any potential for tedium is surpassed.
For many this will be a first opportunity to experience the Royal Opera House as a concert venue. Decked out in wooden panels, with the unusually plentiful chorus seated behind an equally vast orchestra, it works well acoustically as well as visually, and provides a rare opportunity for the orchestra to be risen from the pit to bask in much-deserved limelight. The barrage of music-stands and scores prove no hindrance to communication of the dramatic libretto - we are immediately transported to this charmingly rural French village in the first scene, with the chirpy trio between Antonio, Maddalena and the Marquis skilfully evoking the gossipy chatter of these simple country folk as they greet the powerful Marquis.
At first, the dark and full-bodied voice of Eglise Gutiérrez does not seem to fit with the youthful and feckless nature of Linda’s character. Her ‘O Luce di q’uest anima’ – notorious coloratura masterpiece and the single well-known aria of the opera – is fantastically agile, yet the endless cadenzas seem less the ebullient overflowings of teenage lust that Donizetti intended, and more the mature and poised ponderings of a knowing woman. However, Gutiérrez’s voice seems less conspicuously dark as the opera progresses, and we are treated to some exceptional singing later on – especially in the luxurious love duet between Linda and Carlo in Act I.
Stephen Costello’s Carlo is terrific, his high notes soaring above the orchestra with all the passion and anguish of the vexed lover. Marianna Pizzolatto’s rich sound is perfect for the young Pierotto, and both Ludovic Tezier as Antonio and Elizabeth Sikora as Madalena provide excellent performances as Linda’s impoverished, well-meaning parents. It is Alessandro Corbelli who is the real treat, however, drawing out every inch of comedy from his aging lothario role, and injecting significant charm as well as superb singing into the Marquis’ lecherous designs.
Mark Elder’s vigorous conducting brings out the best from chorus and orchestra, especially drawing out the dynamic contrasts within the chorus part. The audience relish both the touching melodies and the comedic moments, and the production is warmly heralded - standing ovations dot the stalls. With 122 years having passed since Linda di Chamounix was last performed at the Royal Opera House, one can only hope this magnificent production will be back again sooner than that.