Recently in Recordings
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21 Jan 2007
CUYÁS: La Fattucchiera
The sleeve notes of this interesting issue state that “ any comparison between La Fattucchiera and Italian bel canto models by Bellini or Donizetti would be too easy though it became commonplace to describe him (= Cuyàs) as the continuator of the school of Bellini.
It would be an error nowadays tot try to equate the two.”
Well, I invite every opera collector to listen to the few bars of orchestral
accompaniment in the first act. I’m fairly sure every one of them will tell me that
this is Norma and I’ve rarely heard such blatant copying of the Sicilian’s score. I
agree willingly that some of the arias and duets seem to have more of a
Donizettean whiff than a Bellinian one but this only proves that Cuyàs’
contemporaries recognized what they heard. This is not to say that the opera is just
uninspired piracy. But a first opera by a 22-year old composer will naturally
follow the examples of his elders. Cuyàs honours all true and tried forms of his
time. Conjuring up evil spirits is done with a nice and lilting waltz which makes
one smile (the witches in Verdi’s Macbeth are truly impressive in comparison).
Some of the joints between musical numbers are often clumsy. On the other hand
the composer succeeds very well in the often long dialogues between singers and
a chorus which has a far bigger role than usual at the time. And I’m glad to say
that Cunyàs knows how to write a tune. It struck me after repeated hearings that
while some of Donizetti’s works on Opera Rara don’t get under your skin,
Cunyàs’ labour does. As he died of tuberculosis at only 22, nobody can be sure he
would have kept his promise but promise it definitely was.
The recording is boosted tremendously by the strong cast though some of the
names will mean next to nothing to a lot of collectors. The best known singer is
tenor José Sempere, a lyric tenor with quite a lot of steel in the voice; not unlike
Alfredro Kraus. Sempere’s sound is a little bit fuller and less nasal. Often he
doesn’t have the older tenor’s sense of style but here he is on his best behaviour
and sings with restraint and power when necessary and his high notes ring out.
Ofèlia Sala is a splendid sure-footed Ismalia, technically astute in her coloratura
with only an acid hint at the top of the voice. Claudia Marchi as the witch shows
off a high and rich mezzo while Simon Orfila offers a full bass-baritone. Even
Javier Franco as the second baritone has the necessary volume and voice needed
for the role; often rare in such almost world premières where record companies
(witness Bongiovanni) have to accept less talented singers willing to learn a role
for just one or two performances. Josep Pons conducts the able orchestra of the
Barcelona Liceu and he is rhythmically alert and gives a nice flow to the music,
nicely skating over some of the crudities of some entries and exits.
It’s a pity that the recording, magnificently presented as a small book, is marred by
carelessness in the sleeve notes which are so important for a completely unknown
opera. I know of more than one collector who buys every Opera Rara issue just for
the wonderful notes. Cunyàs is not helped by just 20 lines of biography which
moreover are mistakenly printed twice in Spanish instead of English. The libretto
is in Italian only and one sorely misses a page with track information (nor is there
a hint in the libretto to tell one where a new track starts). And there should at least
have been a small line for non-Italian speakers telling them that La Fattucchiera
means fortune-teller. A pity, as every lover of the bel canto age will enjoy the