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Pia de’ Tolomei review at Royal Festival Hall London

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Opera Rara has explored the lesser known works of Donizetti for three decades and this concert presentation was well up to the high standards the company has consistently maintained.

This 1837 work is certainly neglected. Cammarano’s libretto has its ultimate source in Dante. Pia, the wife of Nello, has her honour besmirched by Ghino, Nello’s cousin. The discovery of a man who flees – in fact it is her brother – from her private apartments provokes Nello into throwing his wife into a dank and dismal prison. Ghino’s subsequent guilt and Nello’s belated reconciliation with Pia – who has meanwhile been poisoned on his orders – scarcely redeem unsympathetic characters. Nor is the score anywhere near as memorable as Lucia or Maria Stuarda.

That said, the principals throw themselves into the Donizettian fray with aplomb. Bruce Ford rounds out his in-depth portrayal of neurotic villain Ghino with keen declamation and Roberto Servile as heavy husband Nello is purposeful and incisive. In playing Pia’s brother Rodrigo, Manuela Custer takes full advantage of the opportunities of a highlight prison scene.

But the focus is the heroine, whose wide-ranging music draws singing of spellbinding power and expressivity from Majella Cullagh. She crowns the evening with a scintillating account of an alternative finale Donizetti wrote to give the work a happy ending – and duly brings the house down.

David Parry’s conducting is immaculate and the LPO proves yet again what a marvellous orchestra it is for opera.

Production Information

Royal Festival Hall, London, October 24

London Philharmonic Orchestra & Opera Rara
Cast includes
Majella Cullagh, Manuela Custer, Bruce Ford, Roberto Servile
Running time

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