A Respighi opera double-bill at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama in London recently was the inspiration for searching out this DVD and reporting on the piece and performance - my review of that will appear in the magazine Opera Now.
Respighi's Sleeping Beauty is a short opera: it lasts under 90 minutes, hence the Guildhall's inspired decision to couple it with another Respighi piece (not originally intended as an opera, but successfully staged as such: Maria egiziaca, Saint Mary of Egypt, a concert piece intended for performance in liturgical settings).
So there are two gems here in this Naxos release: the opera itself, and the production from Cagliari (capital of Sardinia). Based on Charles Perrault's fairy tale (as was Tchaikovsky's ballet) and with a libretto by Gian Bistolfi, the story is as one might expect. But the music, not so much. There is a thoroughly balletic slant to much of the writing (until the Prince arrives, and then we get into more verismo, Puccinian territory), while the riotous finale is more akin to Broadway. It should be noted that the opera was originally for puppets (commissioned by the renowned puppeteer Vittorio Podrecca and first performed in Rome, in 1922); the revision is what we hear here, for humans (!)nd a full-blown operatic experience, first performed in Turin in 1934. For Italian speakers, the conducto here, Donato Renzetti, introduces the opera (or just click play below).
Ivan Moody's booklet notes to the Naxos DVD/Bluray are brilliant. He points out, correctly, that while Respighi has access to a great number of styles, the result is far from a patchwork quilt, more a “matter of stylistic eclecticism”. One can find touches of other composers here: Stravinsky (the on-stage trumpet and Petrushka, perhaps), Puccini (as mentioned), Baroque music and that finale (actually a cake-walk!).
Perhaps the high-point is the duet between Prince and Princess in act 3, lush and radiant before the Blue Fairy brings everyone back to life in the court and the festive finale can be launched at the audience (if you've never heard it before - and most haven't, let's face it - it is a surprise, doubly so here as you see humans with mouse heads as part of the on-stage line-up).
The staging here is full of delicious detail, colour and joy, yet honours the incipit malevolence in the fairy tale, not just in the Green Gairy (green with envy) but also in the silent "demons" who dance around the sleeping Princess. It is unafraid of darkness, using a spotlight for the Prince in the woods near the enchanted castle in the final act.
Donato Renztti's conducting results in light textures and articulation from his players and a multiplicity of colours. As the Blue Fairy, coloratura soprano Shoushik Barsoumian is excellent, while Antonio Gandia as "The Prince April" has all the power required and yet all the lyricism, too. Lara Rotili is a deliciously malevolent Green Fairy, while Angela Nisi is a fine (if not entirely perfectly in tune) Princess. Of the reigning couple, it is the King who has by far the most to do, ad Vincenzo Taormina is fabulous as the monarch. This opera has a large cast, and there is no real weak link here.
Here is Naxos' promo video for the Cagliari production, which gives a fine idea of the magical ambience Leo Muscato (stage director) creates - of Giada Abiendi's sets and Vera Pierantoni Giua's costumes and Alessandro Verazzi's stunning lighting:
A magical opera. perfect for kids (many of the large cast double as animals!, perfect for adults (much to digest) and perfect, too, for Christmas as an alternative to Disney!
You can find the DVD on Amazon here, and the Blu-ray here. Adriano's perfectly serviceable audio-only Marco Polo recording is available here. And if you are an ardent treasure-hunter, good luck in finding the recording on the A.N.N.A. label from Brooklyn, New York issued in 1980!. Below is a Spotify for the Adriano.