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Domenico Cimarosa: Cleopatra
20 Sep 2006

CIMAROSA: Cleopatra

The first thing I noticed in the liner notes was the bold print claiming Cimarosa was born in 1797 and died in 1848, which correspond exactly with Donizetti’s lifespan.

Domenico Cimarosa: Cleopatra

Luisa Giannini (Cleopatra), Patrizia Morandini (Antonio), Luca Favaron (Domizio), Maria Pia Moriyon (Arsinoe). Orchestra e Cora Città di Adria conducted by Franco Piva.

Bongiovanni GB2395/96-2 [2CDs]

$35.99  Click to buy

However, my encyclopaedia confirmed that Cimarosa was an 18th century composer, born in 1749 and dying in 1801. The notes themselves are always of interest in a Bongiovanni issue, though one better understand some Italian as the English translation is often ridiculous. We are told that soprano Giannini sang a lot with the ‘conduction’ M. Boemi, ‘the conduction’ Sangiorgi etc. probably all ‘conductioners’ instead of just plain conductors. Small roles are called ‘side roles’. The tenor in Zauberflöte is a certain Taminus, etc.

The opera itself (called more exactly azione teatrale) is brief, just two acts lasting barely 100 minutes. It premièred in St. Petersburg, where Catherine II tried to raise the cultural standard of her court. But to appease the court, it couldn’t be too long or too difficult, and the plot cannot be complicated. Certainly in this plot nothing really happens. Marc Antony prepares himself to do battle to Octavius and to his agreeable surprise Cleopatra arrives. Thus ends act one. He wants to leave and she wants to accompany him. He at first refuses and then consents. End of opera.

The opera is just one big sequence of aria’s, a few duets, one quartet, and of course the inevitable ballet and march. The music is pleasant, not very original and could be the work of any composer of the time, be it Mosca, Nicolini, Righini, Portogallo or Cimarosa himself. Better than run-of-the-mill are the ballet and the fine duet at the end of the first act. Yet there is one piece of genius: a very beautiful and melodious quartet at the end which if one didn’t know better, it could almost come from Cosi fan tutte. A simple story and pleasant music do not necessarily mean cantabile. The arias are pitched very high indeed and are full of much florid singing, which is where the main problem of this issue lies.

It is the curse of many an interesting Bongiovanni issue that the firm has to accept soloists engaged by the theatres, which perform these rarities. But gone are the days that small provincial Italian houses like Adria (20.000 inhabitants) could get good or even acceptable singers for an unknown opera. The title role is sung by Luisa Giannini, no longer a youthful lady though the possessor of a lot of diplomas according to her biography with only one lacking in my opinion: raw vocal talent. The sound is thin and shrill above the staff and completely undistinguished. She simply cannot take the many vocal hurdles asked for by Cimarosa. The coloratura is especially sketchy. Sung by a young Kathy Battle or a Lucia Popp the music would probably have made a far deeper impression. Dramatic soprano Patrizia Morandini, too, has a long career in minor houses behind her but the sound is still warm and firm and her Antonio is very convincing. Tenor Luca Favaron has mostly sung small roles and a few major ones and his fine Italian voice proves in his one aria he could go far. Conductor Franco Piva, a composer himself, has made a critical version of the original score as a lot of important markings were erased. He clearly relishes the music and succeeds in getting a very full sound from a small orchestra and chorus.

Jan Neckers

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