Joan Sutherland was at the height of her career when she took on the role of Leonora – arguably the most dramatic of all Verdi heroines – in 1983. Elijah Moshinsky’s production, in which he was ably supported by the Australian artist Sidney Nolans (set design), Luciana Arrighi (costumes) and Nick Chelton (lighting), was tailor-made for Sutherland, allowing Leonora to develop into a truly tragic heroine occupying the opera’s central ground. This performance at the Australian Opera, Sydney – and featuring a high quality cast under the baton of Richard Bonynge – was recorded by Australian Television on 2nd July 1983. Verdi’s powerful and passionate opera tells a tale of civil war and treachery.
This tragicomedy was apparently the greatest success of Giovanni Paisiello’s career, some claim considering that he wrote around 90 operas and that his Barbiere di Siviglia both inspired Mozart to produce Le nozze di Figaro as a sequel and caused later audiences to criticise Rossini for daring to tackle the same subject. Although Paisiello (1740-1816) is interesting enough to deserve some attention today, his musical accomplishments are more reminiscent of Cimarosa than anyone else. He did, however, enjoy a colourful life, and served European rulers as diverse as Catherine the Great and Napoleon. When Nina was first performed at La Scala, the title role was taken by none other than Floria Tosca, the singer who was later to inspire Sardou and Puccini.
By 1981, when this production was taped for Canadian television, Joan Sutherland's voice was unquestionably past its prime. But even in its decline, that voice remained something quite special, and the role of the troubled Druid priestess Norma was one of her specialties. A substantial advantage in this recording is the presence at the podium of her husband and coach, Richard Bonynge, who had a deep understanding of the strengths and limitations of her voice and stage persona. His pacing and balance give the voice opportunities to challenge, at least momentarily, the ravages of time. Lotfi Mansouri, one of the great operatic entrepreneurs of the late 20th century, assembled a first-class supporting cast for Sutherland–most notably Tatiana Troyanos, to whose memory this video is dedicated. The performance of Troyanos in the role of the younger and equally troubled priestess Adalgisa is outstanding and would make this disc worth having even without its documentation of Sutherland. As far as it is possible to determine, this is the only video opera appearance of tenor Francisco Ortiz. On the basis of his performance as the Roman officer Pollione, he seems to have deserved more attention. Bass Justino Diaz gives a sterling performance as the old Druid Oroveso. (Joe McLellan)