Imelda de'Lambertazzi (1830) was written just before Donizetti's first great international success, Anna Bolena, and it remains one of his many operas that has never made it into the repertoire. In his illuminating program notes, Jeremy Commons argues that Imelda was probably Donizetti's most forward-looking, even avant-garde opera; the composer was determined to create music that matched the demands of the drama, and therefore ignored many of the operatic conventions audiences had come to expect. It's no surprise, then, that it was badly received, and has rarely been revived. Donizetti's transgressions include the use of the chorus in an expanded, but unconventional way, an eccentric disposition of voice types among the principals, an unrelentingly dark tone, an avoidance of showy coloratura display, and his decision to end the opera not with a grand aria for the heroine, but with a much simpler arioso. To modern ears, for whom these departures from convention are less troubling, the opera comes across as a dramatically concise work, which may lack spectacular showpieces but is full of effective and moving music. This splendid performance, led by Mark Elder, makes a strong case for the opera. Imelda is Nicole Cabell's first starring role in a complete opera recording, and her portrayal is luminous, both musically and dramatically. Cabell's voice is pure and full, and she completely inhabits the role, showing a rare sensitivity to the nuances of the text. Her death scene, which early audiences found so unsatisfactory, is certainly one of the most realistic in pre-modern opera, and without making musical compromises, Cabell makes you believe that Imelda is actually struggling with her last breaths. The rest of the cast -- Frank Lopardo, Massimo Giordano, James Westman, and Brindley Sheratt -- matches her level of vocal excellence and dramatic intensity, making this a fully gripping performance. The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (playing period instruments) and the Geoffrey Mitchell Choir sound marvelous. The quality of Opera Rara's SACD is clean and lively, with a strong sense of presence.
Donizetti: Imelda de' Lambertazzi Review
by Stephen Eddins