Pia de’ Tolomei premiered in Venice in February 1837 and, unbelievably, reached London in March 2016 – last week – a mere 179 years later. With laudable courage, English Touring Opera has once again dived deep into the Donizetti back catalogue and come up with a pearl of luscious beauty, giving us that rarest of opportunities: a superb evening of opera at once recognisably gorgeous, in the highest traditions of bel canto, but also entirely, refreshingly new.
Donizetti screws the tension higher and higher all night, using brazen martial marches and occasional sour harmonies to contrast with soaring ideas of love and duty. This is definitely an opera which rises and falls with its star, and Elena Xanthoudakis is truly fabulous as Pia, doing the role glorious justice with her stellar projection, wonderful softness of tone and huge soprano range.
- Pia’s story comes from Dante’s Divine Comedy, Purgatory, Book V, lines 130-136