One thing the Donizetti Festival in Bergamo is noted for is unarthing Donizetti rarities. The 2016 edition was Rosmonda d’Inghilterra; a dramatically rather slight piece based on the story of Henry II’s mistress, generally known as “The Fair Rosamund”. In the opera version Rosmonda is locked up in a tower by her lover Edegardo who has promised to marry her except he’s really Henry II (Enrico) and Leonora (Eleanor of Aquitaine) is going to have something to say about that. Complicating matters; Enrico’s page Arturo is in love with Rosmonda and her dad, Clifford, is the king’s principal counsellor and not at all happy about his daughter carrying on with a married man. Clifford’s plan to save the family’s honour is to have Arturo take Rosmonda off to Aquitaine and marry her. Rosmonda’s is to retire to a convent (as, apparently, the historical Rosamund did) . Enrico’s is to divorce Leonora (given Enrico’s problems with the church this seems highly implausible but, hey, bel canto) and make Rosmonda his queen. Leonora isn’t having any of this and shows up at the tower and kills Rosmonda. Finito. Along the way there’s lots of very workmanlike Donizetti music which sounds pretty much like most Donizetti operas.
Rossini’s Aureliano in Palmira is a rarity for a whole host of reasons. There’s no definitive edition. Many of the extant scores have much easier versions of the main arias for the tenor titular character. Quite a bit of the music was reused for Il barbiere di Siviglia, often in ways that seem quite odd after hearing it in its original context. Finally, the plot is a bit thin. Not that that usually worries bel canto aficianados.
Ciro in Babilonia is an early work by Rossini composed for the lenten season when only works on biblical/religious themes were permitted. This doesn’t really fit that description. Sure, the story of Belshazzar and the writing on the wall gets a brief look in but it’s almost interpolated in the story, from Herodotus, of Cyrus’ capture, together with wife and child, by Belshazzar. It’s a tale of arrogant kingship, religious faith and marital devotion. Typical opera seria stuff really. It’s a bit thin plot-wise though which probably explains its relegation to obscurity. This first modern production was created at Caramoor, then translated to the Rossini festival at Pesaro, where it was recorded in 2012.
Adelaide di Borgogna is one of those rather odd “serious” Rossini works where bel canto collides with opera seria. The plot is fairly accurately based on an episode from 10th century history and is most definitely not a comedy. The form has progressed well beyond a succession of da capo arias with multiple ensemble numbers and quite a few choruses. But there’s a throwback to an earlier tradition in the use of high voices for heroic male roles though it seems that by 1817 castrati were rather rare and the crucial role of Ottone, the German emperor, was from the beginning sung by a female contralto.
Even by the standards of bel canto comedies Donizetti’s Le convenienze ed inconvenienze teatrali is insubstantial fluff. It’s basically a farce about a no hope opera troupe failing miserably to rehearse an opera in the face of prima donnaish Prima Donna, her overprotective husband, a flaky German tenor and the overbearing mother of the Seconda Donna (played by a man, natch). Half of the jokes turn on cast members singing badly and the rest on standard opera clichés. None of them are particularly funny. The music is a bit non descript too. The best bits are when the Prima Donna and the tenor inexplicably decide to sing Rossini and Mozart in the middle of a rehearsal.