Mercadante Orazi e Curiazi
At the very least, the opera rates acknowledgement as a job well done. It takes up promising dramatic material, previously used by Cimarosa and deriving from Livy via Corneille. The setting is early Rome but might be almost anywhere, right up to present-day Bosnia, where brothers-in-law might find themselves fighting on opposing sides. Central to the drama is the sister, Camilla, tormented by conflicting loyalties and loves, the drama itself ranging widely over the vicissitudes of love and war, involving characters who are not simply heroes and villains but people whose private lives are sacrificed to what is considered the public good. The libretto is well-made, still more so the score. Three solid, workmanlike acts are constructed, and every element in the music (melody, rhythm, orchestration and so forth) bears the imprint of care and skill. Every situation stimulates its emotional response – in its way, the opera is a triumph of form, yet there is nothing merely formal about it. It enjoyed a notable success in its time but went under in the 1860s, and this is its first recording.
Appropriately, it has been undertaken by Opera Rara, who were responsible for the opera's revival in 1975. David Parry, who conducts in the recording, was assistant conductor at those performances, in which the leading roles were sung by Janet Price and Christian du Plessis. Here Nelly Miricioiu makes a welcome return to the studios as Camilla, and her brother (and murderer) is the admirable Anthony Michaels-Moore. Miricioiu is one of the many in her generation who seem to have ineradicably at the back of the mind an aural image of Maria Callas in such music: happily, the influence does not extend to exaggerated register-breaks and squally high notes, but it does insinuate itself into many a portamento and encourage that kind of chesty glottal effect so often used when dramatic emphasis is needed. When purely herself she sings beautifully and with eloquent expression. Michaels-Moore has the great advantage of a fine voice and well-schooled, even production, yet just a little less of the English gentleman is wanted to give authenticity to his cries of ''Empia donna!'' and ''Oh mio furor!''. Something of the same sort might be said of Alastair Miles, whose basso cantante has fine dignified sonority but not the vibrancy and emotional involvement of the old Italians. The tenor, Marcus Jerome, does carry some emotional conviction, the voice making up in point and concentration for what it may lack in body.
He suffers rather more than the others from the unsatisfactory balance of the recording, which gives insufficient presence to the singers, especially the chorus. From time to time the libretto tells us that the Senators or the Albans enter; but here, as far as the sound is concerned, they get no further than the doorway or just outside. The churchlike acoustic sends one to the booklet to learn where the recording was made, and there it is, sure enough: All Saints, Tooting. The booklet also contains a useful essay by Julian Budden and a survey of the opera's performing history by Tom Kaufman and the late Don White, to whose memory the issue is dedicated. Ably conducted and outstandingly well played, the performance adds to the considerable debt we already owe to this organization and to the Peter Moores Foundation which has helped to support it.'