Linda di Chamounix is the opera which marked Gaetano Donizetti’s first success in Vienna. The story is traditionally Romantic: a beautiful young girl falls in love with Carlo, a Viscount pretending to be a poor painter (Rigoletto, anyone?). A Marquis tries to seduce her, she moves to Paris, living in a beautiful apartment provided by her beloved Viscount (who has revealed his status). Her father finds her and is overwhelmed by shame at her conduct; she finds out that Carlo is getting married to another woman and loses her mind, giving Donizetti the chance to write yet another mad scene. Carlo eventually does not go through with the wedding, and comes back to marry her, restoring her sanity and her reputation.

Jessica Pratt (Linda)
© Michele Monasta

The plot itself is more interesting than this outline would lead you to believe. The place where Linda lives is very far away from the idyllic setting of L’elisir d’amore, or from the stereotypical Swiss village in La sonnambula. This is a village in Savoy, in the Alps, where life is hard. During the winter months the fields are frozen, and the young men and women travel to Paris, to make some money to support their elders and the children left behind. They do odd jobs and beg in the streets, singing accompanied by the hurdy-gurdy, a type of mechanical string instrument. Linda is coveted by the very Marquis who has the fate of her family in his hands: he decides if they get to rent the farm again, so her position is dramatic. The Viscount sets Linda up in one of his apartments, and even if the librettist Gaetano Rossi would have us believe that their relation is platonic, even the other characters in the opera are sceptical. The story has realistic, dark undertones, even if the dramma semiserio required a happy ending. The character of Carlo is particularly hideous, even as tenors go. He’s constantly talking about his own misfortunes, not giving a single thought to Linda, who is risking not only her love, but her very life, and the survival of her family.

Cesare Lievi's Maggio Musicale Fiorentino production was based on stylised sets by Luigi Perego, fairly realistic, while the direction strongly suffered from Covid restrictions. The opera was supposed to be represented at the beginning of the year, so the chorus is static on stage, reading from the score, even if they are dressed as farmers. The different characters hardly ever touch each other. All this, albeit understandable, renders the production static. The show was reprised for three dates now, and there probably wasn’t enough rehearsal time. Several singers forgot their lines here and there, and the balance between pit and stage was not always optimal. Conductor Michele Gamba gave a very energetic reading of the score, which, at times, verged on the bombastic. To be honest, the score lends itself to such excess, there could even be a marching band onstage at a certain point.

Jessica Pratt (Linda) and Teresa Iervolino (Pierotto)
© Michele Monasta

Linda was sung by Jessica Pratt, one of the best coloratura sopranos of our times. She was very much at ease in the high tessitura the part requires, and her mad scene was amazing. Her voice navigated all the difficulties while she interpreted the poor girl with empathy and emotion. And she shot a perfect super high E flat at the end. 

This work features a typical character of bel canto operas: the young boy sung by a woman, Pierotto. Teresa Iervolino put her beautiful, bronzed timbre at the service of this sad orphan having a hopeless crush on Linda. My favourite moment of the evening was the duet between Pratt and Iervolino in the second act, when they meet again in Paris: their voices melted together with great affinity and musical intelligence. And Pierotto has a melody taken from Lucia’s mad scene, it was so beautiful. Pierotto sings a ballad in the first act, which returns again and again in what follows: it is the song that Linda hears in the street in Paris, which leads to their reunion, and it is the only sound that manages to awaken her when she is in a catatonic state in her folly. The hurdy-gurdy is “played” by the orchestra, the drone by the lower strings, in fifths and octaves, and the melody by the violins, a very effective musical idea.

Jessica Pratt (Linda)
© Michele Monasta

Carlo was tenor Giulio Pelligra, with a high voice and a light timbre; he seemed tired towards the end, his voice strained. His high C in the second act aria was successful. Vittorio Prato was Linda’s father, Antonio, his baritone pleasant and resonant. The lecherous Marquis was Fabio Capitanucci, also a baritone, who showed good comic flair performing the old man’s antics. Michele Pertusi sang the Prefect with a noble, smooth bass.

***11