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19 Oct 2006
DONIZETTI: Alahor in Granata
A yellow banner in the lower right hand corner of the slip case cover (identical to that of the jewel box and booklet) proclaims this CD as the "first world recording" of Gaetano Donizetti's Alahor in Granata.
In today's market, a second will not be soon arriving, but not to worry. On the debit side, although the opera's score presents itself as the sturdy dramatic work of a talented craftsman, it lacks those glittering moments of genius that secured Lucia di Lammermoor a place in the core repertory, or even those flashes of inspiration that inspire occasional revivals of La Favorite or the "three queen" operas. To the recording's credit, however, a more enthusiastic or professional performance than this is hard to imagine.
Two excellent booklet essays detail the complex history of the opera's composition and the even more labyrinthine ongoings of the libretto, which passeth all understanding. Granada under Muslim rule provides the setting for betrayal, revenge, passion, and joy, all exhibited at the zenith of the range of human emotion. It is enough that there are plentiful opportunities for choral, ensemble, and solo vocal display. The Orchestra of the city of Granada may not be of world-renown, but they exhibit more than enough skill for Donizetti's score, and the seasoned leadership of Josep Pons supports the singers at every step.
When it came time to find singers, the opera really found luck on its side. The excellent Simone Alaimo has the title role, a baritone lead, and it perfectly suits this accomplished bel canto artist. As his sister, soprano Patricia Pace has a bright, dancing vocal timbre that sometimes falls a bit shy of the note, evoking a plaintive air (and a slight reminiscence of the great Edita Gruberova).
But the discoveries of this recording are two young singers, even younger in 1998, the time of the recording. Vivica Genaux now brings her quick, light mezzo to many of the world's best opera houses. Here she finds herself, if not for the first time (and far from the last) in pants. Her quickness and delineation have a heroic quality which make the cross-dressing entirely fitting. Juan Diego Florez now stars in the top opera houses, and here he is in his-mid-twenties. The tangy, sharp tone is unmistakable, as is his control and skill in fast, high music. Genaux and Florez have a long duet near the end of act one that alone makes this set a desirable acquisition for fans of contemporary singers.
So Alahor in Granata, after falling into many decades of obscurity, finds itself resurrected, and the living proof comes in a handsome recording in fine sound. Bel canto lovers and Donizetti worshipers, rejoice.