Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Recordings

Giovanni Simon Mayr: Medea in Corinto

The Bavarian-born Johann Simon Mayr (1763–1845) trained and made his career in Italy and thus ended up calling himself Giovanni Simone Mayr, or simply G. S. Mayr. He is best known for having been composition teacher to Giuseppe Donizetti.

Matthias Goerne: Bach Cantatas for Bass

In this new release for Harmonia Mundi, German baritone Matthias Goerne presents us with two gems of Bach’s cantata repertoire, with the texts of both BWV 56 and 82 exploring one’s sense of hope in death.  Goerne adeptly interprets the paradoxical combination of hope and despair that underpins these works, deploying a graceful lyricism alongside a richer, darker bass register.

Gramophone Award Winner — Matthias Goerne Brahms Vier ernste Gesänge

Winner of the 2017 Gramophone Awards, vocal category - Matthias Goerne and Christoph Eschenbach - Johannes Brahms Vier ernste Gesänge and other Brahms Lieder. Here is why ! An exceptional recording, probably a new benchmark.

Véronique Gens: Visions from Grand Opéra

Ravishing : Visions, Véronique Gens in a glorious new recording of French operatic gems, with Hervé Niquet conducting the Münchener Rundfunkorchester. This disc is a companion piece to Néère, where Gens sang familiar Duparc, Hahn, and Chausson mélodies.

John Joubert's Jane Eyre

Librettists have long mined the literature shelves for narratives that are ripe for musico-dramatic embodiment. On the whole, it’s the short stories and poems - The Turn of the Screw, Eugene Onegin or Death in Venice, for example - that best lend themselves to operatic adaptation.

Through Life and Love: Louise Alder sings Strauss

Soprano Louise Alder has had an eventful few months. Declared ‘Young Singer of the Year’ at the 2017 International Opera Awards in May, the following month she won the Dame Joan Sutherland Audience Prize at the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World.

A Master Baritone in Recital: Sesto Bruscantini, 1981

This is the only disc ever devoted to the art of Sesto Bruscantini (1919–2003). Record collectors value his performance of major baritone roles, especially comic but also serious ones, on many complete opera recordings, such as Il barbiere di Siviglia (with Victoria de los Angeles). He continued to perform at major houses until at least 1985 and even recorded Mozart's Don Alfonso in 1991, when he was 72.

Emalie Savoy: A Portrait

Since 1952, the ARD—the organization of German radio stations—has run an annual competition for young musicians. Winners have included Jessye Norman, Maurice André, Heinz Holliger, and Mitsuko Uchida. Starting in 2015, the CD firm GENUIN has offered, as a separate award, the chance for one of the prize winners to make a CD that can serve as a kind of calling card to the larger musical and music-loving world. In 2016, the second such CD award was given to the Aris Quartett (second-prize winner in the “string quartet” category).

Detlev Glanert : Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch

Detlev Glanert's Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch should be a huge hit. Just as Carl Orff's Carmina Burana appeals to audiences who don't listen to early music (or even to much classical music), Glanert's Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch has all the elements for instant popular success.

A Falstaff Opera in Shakespeare’s Words: Sir John in Love

Only one Shakespeare play has resulted in three operas that get performed today (whether internationally or primarily in one language-region). Perhaps surprisingly, the play in question is a comedy that is sometimes considered a lesser work by the Bard: The Merry Wives of Windsor.

A Resplendent Régine Crespin in Tosca

There have to be special reasons to release a monophonic live recording of a much-recorded opera. Often it can give us the opportunity to hear a singer in a major role that he or she never recorded commercially—or did record on some later occasion, when the voice was no longer fresh. Often a live recording catches the dramatic flow better than certain studio recordings that may be more perfect technically.

Karine Deshayes’s Astonishing New Rossini Recording

Critic and scholar John Barker has several times complained, in the pages of American Record Guide, about Baroque vocal recitals that add instrumental works or movements as supposed relief or (as he nicely calls them) “spacers.”

Knappertsbusch’s Only Recording of Lohengrin Released for the First Time

Hans Knappertsbusch was one of the most renowned Wagner conductors who ever lived. His recordings of Parsifal, especially, are near-legendary among confirmed Wagnerians.

Kathleen Ferrier Remembered

Kathleen Ferrier Remembered, from SOMM Recordings, makes available on CD archive broadcasts of British and German song. All come from BBC broadcasts made between 1947 and 1952. Of the 26 tracks in this collection, 19 are "new", not having been commercially released. The remaining seven have been remastered by sound restoration engineer Ted Kendall. Something here even for those who already own the complete recordings.

Color and Drama in Two Choral Requiems from Post-Napoleonic France

The Requiem text has brought out the best in many composers. Requiem settings by Mozart, Verdi, and Fauré are among the most beloved works among singers and listeners alike, and there are equally wondrous settings by Berlioz and Duruflé, as well as composers from before 1750, notably Jean Gilles.

Matthias Goerne - late Schumann songs, revealed

Matthias Goerne Schumann Lieder, with Markus Hinterhäuser, a new recording from Harmonia Mundi. Singers, especially baritones, often come into their prime as they approach 50, and Goerne, who has been a star since his 20's is now formidably impressive. The colours in his voice have matured, with even greater richness and depth than before.

LALO and COQUARD: La Jacquerie

La Jacquerie—here recorded for the first time—proves to be a wonderful opera, bringing delight upon delight.

Urania Remasters Marriage of Figaro

Good news for lovers of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro: the famous Living Stereo recording, a co-production of RCA Victor and English Decca, is now available again, well remastered, on Urania.

Opera Rara: new recording of Bellini's Adelson e Salvini

In May 2016, Opera Rara gave Bellini aficionados a treat when they gave a concert performance of Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, at the Barbican Hall. The preceding week had been spent in the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios, and this recording, released last month, is a very welcome addition to Opera Rara’s bel canto catalogue.

Jonas Kaufmann : Mahler Das Lied von der Erde

Jonas Kaufmann Mahler Das Lied von der Erde is utterly unique but also works surprisingly well as a musical experience. This won't appeal to superficial listeners, but will reward those who take Mahler seriously enough to value the challenge of new perspectives.

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):