Arias for Luigi Marchesi
The musicologist Stefano Aresi and his intrepid ensemble Stile Galante turn their microscope on the Milanese castrato Luigi Marchesini (1755-1829), who famously refused a summons to sing before Napoleon when Milan was conquered in May 1796, prompting the spurned tyrant to place the castrato under house arrest. Marchesi was more compliant when he attended the emperor’s coronation as king of Italy in 1805, the same year in which the singer retired from the stage after three decades of performing across Europe for all of the leading Italian composers of the era. Ann Hallenberg’s powers of supple precision, melodic sweetness, flawless coloratura and expressive pathos are on compelling form in a range of dazzling rondos, six of which feature ornaments and cadenzas attributed to Marchesi himself.
The flamboyant ‘Vedo l’abisso orrendo’ and tenderly pathetic ‘Lungi da te, ben mio’ are both from Sarti’s Armida e Rinaldo, which inaugurated the theatre at St Petersburg’s Hermitage in 1786. Sarti’s pupil Cherubini makes an appearance with ‘Quanto è fiero il mio tormento’ from Alessandro nelle Indie (Mantua, 1784) – for good measure, a bonus track presents another take of the aria featuring Marchesi’s alternative second set of embellishments. The limpid ‘Sembianze amabili’ closes with Marchesi’s notorious ‘harmonic rocket’ – an ascending chromatic scale – which apparently prompted a row between the castrato and the young Nancy Storace during the production of Bianchi’s Castore e Polluce (Florence, 1779). Donizetti’s teacher Mayr is represented with the delicate cavatina ‘Oh qual contento’ from his Venetian opera Lauso e Lidia (Venice, 1798). The long-lasting currency of old Metastasio librettos is attested to by arias from three different settings of L’olimpiade: Cimarosa’s florid ‘Superbo di me stesso’ (Vicenza, 1784), Myslive∂ek’s showpiece ‘Se cerca, se dice’ (Naples, 1778) and Sarti’s eloquent ‘Rendi, oh cara, il prence amato’ (Rome, 1783). The recital culminates with a dramatically intense scene from Zingarelli’s Pirro (Milan, 1791). Stile Galante’s unforced playing and Hallenberg’s artistic re-enactment of Marchesi’s singing reveals what kind of music was being performed in the most prestigious opera houses in Italy while Mozart was flourishing in Vienna.