CALDARA The Cervantes Operas
The Spanish ensemble La Ritirata and its Artistic Director (and cellist) Josetxu Obregón present an ingenious programme that simultaneously celebrates the 400th anniversary of the death of Cervantes while exploring two obscure operas by Caldara based on episodes from Don Quixote. Don Chisciotte in Corte della Duchessa (1727) and Sancio Panza Governatore dell’isola Barattaria (originally completed in 1730 and revised in 1733) were both created for Vienna. To provide respite between vocal selections, La Ritirata play several ballets for falconers, peasants and satyrs, and knight-errants by Nicola Matteis the younger. The close recording in a reverberant environment works hard to balance prominent woodwinds with a small yet often vibrant string group.
A variety of dramatic situations and musical moods is conjured by three soloists playing a range of six different Cervantine characters. Don Quixote’s comparison of a situation to tales from Ariosto’s Orlando furioso is sung with charming wit by Emiliano González Toro, whose pinpoint rapid coloratura is thrilling when the would-be hero vows to fight a duel to avenge a young woman’s betrayal (‘Venga pure in campo armato’). María Espada’s brightly florid singing in Altisdora’s ‘Penso di già che appena’ (a reproach addressed to two different men) is accompanied delightfully by recorders. Sancho’s acceptance that he must receive 3500 blows in order to undo a spell on a lady is sung with comedic warmth by João Fernandes (whose lyrical low notes are impressive). The simple string parts in a lovely Venetian-style villota in which Don Quixote sanctimoniously offers Polonius-like advice to Sancho could have been left alone to good enough effect without intrusive (and utterly anachronistic) psaltery, and the over-active novelty also hinders Sancho’s bathetic farewell ‘Addio, Signor Padrone’ (sung superbly by Fernandes). Whether or not one likes the artistic licence of post-historically informed capriciousness, these spirited performances afford a glimpse of how a literary genius of one epoch had a direct influence on operatic culture in a different country over a century later.