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There are some very peculiar operas out there, and over the last few seasons the Teatro Lirico di Cagliari, Sardinia’s principal opera house, seems intent on unearthing a selection of them for our inspection. Filmed in 2016 is Respighi’s La campana sommersa (The Sunken Bell), (1921), and it’s not until the curtain calls, when an elf takes her bow with a water spirit, witch, faun, bell maker, priest and a dwarf that the full extent of the madness sinks in. Respighi was inspired by Gerhardt Hauptmann’s play to compose the piece, and Ricordi refused to publish it. They, perhaps, had a point. It’s a symbolist mess, involving the titular submerged bell, whose creator leaves his wife and children for an elf, at which point his wife kills herself. He then tries to set up his own religion, hears his underwater bell toll and unceremoniously dumps the elf (commitment issues?) who in turn marries a scaly water spirit (rebound issues?). Finally he expires as the elf returns to lay him out. Respighi’s music is glamorous, glistening, bell-laden, and veers between Italianate passion and a potpourri of other influences (Debussy, Strauss and Dvorak to name but three). It is also curiously unmemorable. Pier Francesco Maestrini’s production is rather lush, with beautiful projections creating a magical effect. Some of the styling is ambitious; our elfin heroine has got her hands on some Clairol and crimpers to startling effect – she’s going to need some deep conditioning to sort that mess out. Donato Renzetti conducts as though it is a masterpiece, and the cast is generally strong. The two leads, high soprano Valentina Farcas and tenor Angelo Villari, sustain long and arduous roles with impressive aplomb.

Francis Muzzu Read the full review on Agora Classica

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