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Opera Rara exhumes yet another rare Donizetti opera, this time Il Paria, which they also performed for its 200th anniversary in concert at the Royal Festival Hall in 2019. An essay in the presentation booklet is entitled Il Paria emerges from the shadows, but I suspect it may lurk there a while longer. It is an enjoyable opera with interesting orchestral moments and there is some arresting woodwind writing. Donizetti also uses the orchestra to propel the melody while the singers’ overlying phrases are more conversational, something further developed in Lucrezia Borgia (1833) and Lucia di Lammermoor (1835); in fact, Il Paria pre-echoes Lucia in its robust duet for tenor and baritone. But it is generally not a particularly memorable opera, and its plot of thwarted cross-caste love in 16th-century India doesn’t help. A Brahmin priestess harbours an affection for the titular pariah, but fate is against them and ultimately they are caught out and go to a curiously unspecified death, in which he sings of his regret at never seeing her again while she looks forward to being united with him. Sounds as though she backed the wrong horse there.

Under Mark Elder’s baton the performance is vivid and lively, with some beautifully moulded lines and strong effects. The cast is variable. René Barbera was a stand- in tenor and is remarkably good in this excruciating role, composed for Rubini, which whizzes up to some high C-sharps that the creator would have sung in a falsetto or mixed register. As is modern practice, Barbera valiantly pings them out in chest voice. The soprano is Albina Shagimuratova and she is the set’s main disappointment. After her excellent Semiramide, also with Elder for this label, expectations are high. Her tone has moments of sweetness in the more limpid phrases, but turns acidulous under pressure, and some of her coloratura is a little approximate. Marko Mimica’s bass and Misha Kiria’s baritone both provide some vocal luxury as the less-than-happy fathers of the couple.

Francis Muzzu Read the full review on Agora Classica

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