Albina Shagimuratova as Neala with Mark Elder
Albina Shagimuratova as Neala with Mark Elder © Russell Duncan

The setting is 16th-century India and two men from a low caste have infiltrated a Brahmin temple. “Our miserable fate, the massacres and horrors, will be revealed over time to distant, more civilised descendants”, they sing with admirable foresight.

The effect is undercut rather by the chirpy, upbeat tune to which the words are sung, but never mind. It is not often that opera grapples with racial issues, so let us allow Donizetti his moment in the spotlight.

His opera Il Paria (The Outcast), which had its premiere in 1829, did not catch on at the time. Bitterly disappointed, Donizetti believed in its musical worth and filched the best bits for later operas, leaving Il Paria as a historical curiosity.

Album cover of ‘Donizetti’s Il Paria’ by Britten Sinfonia

This is its first studio recording. As always, Opera Rara has done the long-neglected opera proud, fielding a fine cast together with the Britten Sinfonia under Mark Elder, and furnishing the set with a lavish booklet of a standard that is rarely seen these days.

The opera has some notable features, including a large role for the chorus and some elaborate orchestral scene-setting, such as the monumental hush around the Temple of Brahma where the tenor sings his entrance aria. That role was created by the legendary Rubini at the premiere and René Barbera succeeds in surmounting its stratospheric vocal writing while sounding tender and expressive. Albina Shagimuratova is bright-voiced, if a touch brittle, as the priestess Neala, and Misha Kiria and Marko Mimica vie as the young couple’s opposing fathers.

★★★★☆

Donizetti: Il Paria’ is released by Opera Rara

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