Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Recordings

Herbert Howells: Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge has played a role in the evolution of British music. This recording honours this heritage and Stephen Cleobury’s contribution in particular by focusing on Herbert Howells, who transformed the British liturgical repertoire in the 20th century.

Mieczysław Weinberg: Symphony no. 21 (“Kaddish”)

Mieczysław Weinberg witnessed the Holocaust firsthand. He survived, though millions didn’t, including his family. His Symphony no. 21 “Kaddish” (Op. 152) is a deeply personal statement. Yet its musical qualities are such that they make it a milestone in modern repertoire.

Kenshiro Sakairi and the Tokyo Juventus Philharmonic in Mahler’s Eighth

Although some works by a number of composers have had to wait uncommonly lengthy periods of time to receive Japanese premieres - one thinks of both Mozart’s Jupiter and Beethoven’s Fifth (1918), Handel’s Messiah (1929), Wagner’s Parsifal (1967), Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette (1966) and even Bruckner’s Eighth (1959, given its premiere by Herbert von Karajan) - Mahler might be considered to have fared somewhat better.

Lise Davidsen sings Wagner and Strauss

Superlatives to describe Lise Davidsen’s voice have been piling up since she won Placido Domingo’s 2015 Operalia competition, blowing everyone away. She has been called “a voice in a million” and “the new Kirsten Flagstad.”

Nicky Spence and Julius Drake record The Diary of One Who Disappeared

From Hyperion comes a particularly fine account of Leoš Janáček’s song cycle The Diary of One Who Disappeared. Handsome-voiced Nicky Spence is the young peasant who loses his head over an alluring gypsy and is never seen again.

Jean Sibelius: Kullervo

Why did Jean Sibelius suppress Kullervo (Op. 7, 1892)? There are many theories why he didn’t allow it to be heard after its initial performances, though he referred to it fondly in private. This new recording, from Hyperion with Thomas Dausgaard conducting the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, soloists Helena Juntunen and Benjamin Appl and the Lund Male Chorus, is a good new addition to the ever-growing awareness of Kullervo, on recording and in live performance.

Mahler: Titan, Eine Tondichtung in Symphonieform – François-Xavier Roth, Les Siècles

Not the familiar version of Mahler's Symphony no 1, but the “real” Mahler Titan at last, as it might have sounded in Mahler's time! François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles present the symphony in its second version, based on the Hamburg/Weimar performances of 1893-94. This score is edited by Reinhold Kubik and Stephen E.Hefling for Universal Edition AG. Wien.

Verdi: Messa da Requiem - Staatskapelle Dresden, Christian Thielemann (Profil)

It has often been the case that the destruction wrought by wars, especially the Second World War, has been treated unevenly by composers. Theodor Adorno’s often quoted remark, from his essay Prisms, that “to write poetry after Auschwitz would be barbaric” - if widely misinterpreted - is limited by its scope and in a somewhat profound way composers have looked on the events of World War II in the same way.

Matthias Goerne: Schumann – Liederkreis, op 24 & Kernerlieder

New from Harmonia Mundi, Matthias Goerne and Lief Ove Andsnes: Robert Schumann – Liederkreis, op 24 and Kernerlieder. Goerne and Andsnes have a partnership based on many years of working together, which makes this new release, originally recorded in late 2018, well worth hearing.

Leonard Bernstein: Tristan und Isolde in Munich on Blu-ray

Although Birgit Nilsson, one of the great Isolde’s, wrote with evident fondness – and some wit – of Leonard Bernstein in her autobiography – “unfortunately, he burned the candles at both ends” – their paths rarely crossed musically. There’s a live Fidelio from March 1970, done in Italy, but almost nothing else is preserved on disc.

Stéphanie D’Oustrac: Sirènes

After D’Oustrac’s striking success as Cassandre in Berlioz Les Troyens, this will reach audiences less familiar with her core repertoire in the baroque and grand opéra. Berlioz’s Les nuits d’été and La mort d’Ophélie, Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder and the Lieder of Franz Liszt are very well known, but the finesse of D’Oustrac’s timbre lends a lucid gloss which makes them feel fresh and pure.

Luminous Mahler Symphony no.3: François-Xavier Roth, Gürzenich-Orchester Köln

Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No.3 with François-Xavier Roth and the Gürzenich-Orchester Köln, now at last on CD, released by Harmonia Mundi, after the highly acclaimed live performance streamed a few months ago.

A First-Ever Recording: Benjamin Godard’s 1890 Opera on Dante and Beatrice

The composer Benjamin Godard (1849–95) is today largely unknown to most music lovers. Specialist collectors, though, have been enjoying his songs (described as “imaginative and delightful” by Robert Moore in American Record Guide), his Concerto Romantique for violin (either in its entirety or just the dancelike Canzonetta, which David Oistrakh recorded winningly decades ago), and some substantial chamber and orchestral works that have received first recordings in recent years.

Between Mendelssohn and Wagner: Max Bruch’s Die Loreley

Max Bruch Die Loreley recorded live in the Prinzregenstheater, Munich, in 2014, broadcast by BR Klassik and now released in a 3-CD set by CPO. Stefan Blunier conducts the Münchner Rundfunkorchester with Michaela Kaune, Magdalena Hinterdobler, Thomas Mohr and Jan-Hendrick Rootering heading the cast, with the Prager Philharmonischer Chor..

Gottfried von Einem’s The Visit of the Old Lady Now on CD

Gottfried von Einem was one of the most prominent Austrian composers in the 1950s–70s, actively producing operas, ballets, orchestral, chamber, choral works, and song cycles.

Britten: Hymn to St Cecilia – RIAS Kammerchor

Benjamin Britten Choral Songs from RIAS Kammerchor, from Harmonia mundi, in their first recording with new Chief Conductor Justin Doyle, featuring the Hymn to St. Cecilia, A Hymn to the Virgin, the Choral Dances from Gloriana, the Five Flower Songs op 47 and Ad majorem Dei gloriam op 17.

Si vous vouliez un jour – William Christie: Airs Sérieux et à boire vol 2

"Si vous vouliez un jour..." Volume 2 of the series Airs Sérieux et à boire, with Sir William Christie and Les Arts Florissants, from Harmonia Mundi, following on from the highly acclaimed "Bien que l'amour" Volume 1. Recorded live at the Philharmonie de Paris in April 2016, this new release is as vivacious and enchanting as the first.

Bohuslav Martinů – What Men Live By

World premiere recording from Supraphon of Bohuslav Martinů What Men Live By (H336,1952-3) with Jiří Bělohlávek and the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra from a live performances in 2014, with Martinů's Symphony no 1 (H289, 1942) recorded in 2016. Bělohlávek did much to increase Martinů's profile, so this recording adds to the legacy, and reveals an extremely fine work.

Berlioz: Harold en Italie, Les Nuits d'été

Hector Berlioz Harold en Italie with François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles with Tabea Zimmermann, plus Stéphane Degout in Les Nuits d’été from Hamonia Mundi. This Harold en Italie, op. 16, H 68 (1834) captures the essence of Romantic yearning, expressed in Byron's Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage where the hero rejects convention to seek his destiny in uncharted territory.

Le Bal des Animaux : Works by Chabrier, Poulenc, Ravel, Satie et al.

Belgian soprano Sophie Karthaüser’s latest song recital is all about the animal kingdom. As in previous recordings of songs by Wolf, Debussy and Poulenc, pianist Eugene Asti is her accompanist in Le Bal des Animaux, a delightful collection of French songs about creatures of all sizes, from flea to elephant and from crayfish to dolphin.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

Saverio Mercadante: La vestale
24 Jan 2006

MERCADANTE: La vestale

It is now slightly over 40 years since the first recording of a complete opera by Saverio Mercadante (an Il Giuramento with Maria Vitale and Amedeo Berdini) was released on LP. I quickly fell in love with his music, and realized that, while not necessarily on the same level as Bellini and Donizetti, he was not far behind, and that more of his works would be extremely welcome.

Saverio Mercadante: La vestale

Doriana Milazzo, Dante Alcala, Agata Bienkowska, Davide Damiani, Danna Glaser, Andrea Patucelli, Ladislav Elgr, Mattia Denti, Wexford Festival Opera Chorus, Cracow Philharmonic Orchestra, Paolo Arrivabeni (cond.).

Marco Polo 8.225310-11 [2CDs]

 

Fortunately, they kept coming, and in the ensuing years, about a dozen of them have been revived, with the bulk available on LP, CD or both.

Mercadante had been born in Altamura, in the South of Italy in 1895, and was to compose some 58 operas which had their premieres between 1819 and 1865. His earliest operas were generally in the style of Rossini, then the dominant figure in Italian opera. After Rossini left Italy in 1823 to go to Paris, Mercadante slowly changed his style, as did the other composers then active in Italy. In the ensuing years, Mercadante continued composing for Italian theaters, but also traveled to Spain, Portugal, and finally, Paris in 1836. He had generally written operas in the style then prevalent in Italy during the 1820s and most of the 1830s. But, perhaps due to his exposure to French opera when he was in Paris in 1836 for the premiere of I Briganti, he started to change his style, incorporating many of the ideas he picked up in the French capital. These changes in style were particularly noticeable in the five works starting with Il giuramento in 1837 and concluding with La vestale in 1840. Not surprisingly, they are frequently referred to as his “reform operas”. These reforms are described in a letter to Florimo, written about a year after the premiere of Il giuramento at the time of Elena da Feltre:

"I have continued the revolution I began with Il giuramento, forms varied, common cabalettas banished, crescendos out, vocal lines simplified, fewer repeats, more originality in the cadences, proper regard paid to the drama, orchestration rich but not so as to swamp the voices, no long solos in the ensembles--they only force the other parts to stand idle to the detriment of the action-, not much brass drum, and a lot less brass band."

It has been frequently stated that Mercadante abandoned his reforms in his later works, but this is not borne out by the four later operas that we have been privileged to hear. While there are indications that some of these "reforms" (perhaps the least significant) have been dropped, there are just as many indications of further progress. Thus, all four of them (Il reggente, [1843], Orazi e Curiazi [1846], Pelagio (1857), and Virginia [composed 1850, premiered 1866]) have many moments of great beauty and great dramatic impact.

La vestale is also the fourth of these reform operas to be available on commercial CD, following Il Giuramento (1837), Elena da Feltre (1839), and Il Bravo (also 1839). It should only be a matter of time until Le Due illustre rivali (1838) joins them.

La vestale had its premiere in Naples on Mar. 10, 1840, some 8 months before Pacini’s Saffo. It was one of the most successful of Mercadante’s operas, its approximately 150 productions during the 19th century being exceeded only by Mercadante’s Il giuramento. To give some idea of what these numbers mean, I was only able to trace seven 19th century performances of Verdi’s Oberto (1839), even less (3) of Un giorno di regno, and 33 of the original (1857) Simon Boccanegra.

The total of 150 productions racked up by La vestale is really quite amazing, especially when you realize that neither Emilia (the equivalent of Giunia in Spontini’s work), nor Decio (the equivalent of Licinio) has an aria. While there are several arias in the opera, these belong to Giunia (Emilia’s dearest friend in the Mercadante work), Publio (Decio’s loyal friend and supporter) and the high priest, Metellio Pio. An equivalent situation would be if Verdi had written Rigoletto giving arias to Giovanna and Monterone instead of Gilda and Rigoletto. Any attempt to explain this anomaly would have to be pure conjecture. But it would seem that by 1840 both Adelina Spech, the creator of the heroine, and Domenico Reina, the first Decio, were approaching the end of significant careers. Paolo Barroilhet, the creator of Publio, on the other hand, had already achieved, star status. He had previously been the leading baritone in Naples for several seasons. He left that city for Paris in late 1840, and was destined to create many roles in that capital, most importantly Alphonse in La favorite, Sevère in Les martyrs, Camoens in Dom Sebastien, Lusignan in La reine de Chypre and the title role in Charles VI.

Being premiered in 1840, the Mercadante work first appeared some 33 years after Spontini’s opera on the same subject. No two operas could be more different. The Spontini is an “interregnum”opera, and can be viewed as belonging to either the very late classical or very early romantic period.. All of Rossini’s operas intervened, as did all of Bellini’s, almost all of Donizetti’s, quite a few of Mercadante’s and Pacini’s, but only one of Verdi’s (Oberto), although it seems very unlikely that the latter would have had any opportunity to influence Mercadante.* On the other hand, there is every indication that Verdi knew and was influenced by Metellio’s prophecy in La vestale by the time he composed Nabucco.

To return to a comparison of the two Vestales, Spontini ‘s was considered quite revolutionary at the time of its premiere. It was the first really successful new opera at the Academie Imperiale de Musique in years, and is considered by many scholars as the first real French grand opera, although it lacked some characteristics of the genre, including five acts and a full scale ballet. But it did have other typical features of grand opera, including an emphasis on spectacle and a tendency to alternate between crowd and private scenes. It is a considerably longer work than Mercadante’s version–the running time of a typical recording is 145 minutes, while the Mercadante is unusually short for a three act opera: just over 97 minutes. Another major difference between the two versions is that the Spontini has a happy ending to conform with the French taste of the time, while the Mercadante is a “tragedia lirica”, and ends, like Aida, with heroine entombed alive.

The success of Mercadante’s La vestale can probably be best explained by its beautiful music, and the relatively large amount of striking numbers it contains. Perhaps the most salient of these is the high priest’s invective and prophecy: “Versate amare lagrime” in Act II, after he has discovered that the sacred flame has been extinguished. This number shows the strong influence of Brogni’s “Vous qui de Dieu vivant” in La juive, with which Mercadante became familiar while in Paris, and points the way to similar prophecies in Verdi’s Nabucco (1842) and Donizetti’s Dom Sebastien (1843). Other personal favorites include the two act finales, especially that to the first act, Giunia’s aria at the start of Act II “Se fino al cielo ascendere” and the love duet between Decio and Emilia in Act II, “No l’acciar non fu spietato” during which the sacred flame goes out.

The Wexford Festival has built a reputation for utilizing young singers, and helping them establish their reputations. During the last ten or so years, they have been particularly fortunate with tenors, what with finding Juan Diego Flores for Etoile du Nord in 1996, Dario Volonté for Siberia in 1999, and Joseph Calleja for Si j’etais Roi in 2000. It seems that they have found another such winner in Dante Alcalá, the young Mexican who sang Decio in the 2004 revival (actually, the premiere in the British Isles), which is the basis of this recording. It should be mentioned at this point that the Marco Polo recording under review is actually the second Mercadante Vestale to be issued, since Bongiovanni had released the performance that took place in Split, Croatia in April 1987 about 15 years ago. Of the two performances, the one on Bongiovanni wins in terms of the presentation, since a bilingual libretto is provided. But the singing is generally comparable or superior in the Marco Polo release—strikingly so where the Metellio is concerned. In addition to the Decio and Metellio (Andrea Patucelli), I was also quite favorably impressed by the sweet-voiced Emilia (Doriana Milazzo) and the Publio (Davide Damiani), who has been making a name for himself over the last 10 years with appearances in Vienna in Le Prophete, Fedora, L’elisir d’amore, Le nozze di Figaro and other operas as well as Wexford in Il giuramento and other important theatres.

David Rosen’s liner notes are excellent, and up to Wexford’s usual standard for such notes. My only disappointment with the booklet is the lack of a libretto, which I consider an absolute must for unfamiliar operas such as this one. While it is true that a libretto is available on the Naxos web site (in Italian only), which would have increased the price, not everybody likely to buy the set has access to the Internet; and some might even prefer the portability of a libretto in hard copy.

Tom Kaufman

* Oberto was premiered in Milan Nov. 17, 1839, and given in Turin on Jan. 11, 1840. La vestale was premiered in Naples Mar. 10, 1840.

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):