Salieri Opera Arias
As the leading figure in Viennese operatic life for some three decades, and successful too in Venice and Paris, Antonio Salieri occupies no inconsiderable position in operatic history. This fascinating CD gives a well-chosen selection of music from his Italian operas – he composed German ones, too, for Vienna, and French ones for Paris – written over 25 years, in serious, comic and mixed genres. I found the purely comic pieces perhaps the least interesting: his conception of comedy is, in the Italian tradition, quite literal and direct. In fact, the first piece here, from La secchia rapita, although rapid and brilliant, is a bit hectic and slightly squally in tone at times, although Cecilia Bartoli’s agility, her huge leaps and her shapeliness of phrase compel admiration. Much the same may be said of the comic aria from Il ricco d’un giorno (from which a fine serious aria is also included). But among the lighter pieces come a delightfully spirited little ‘rustic’ piece from La finta scema and a charming little minuet from La grotta di Trofonio, very sharply and neatly characterised here.
That piece was written for Nancy Storace, the English soprano who created Mozart’s Susanna. So is the beautiful slow aria from La scuola de’ gelosi, preceded by a recitative sung with much feeling by Bartoli; the aria itself is a lament for lost love, not on the level, of course, of ‘Porgi amor’ but still deeply felt and affecting. So, too, is the rondo from La cifra, written for another Mozart singer, Adriana Ferrarese, the first Fiordiligi, again preceded by a forceful recitative, which will remind the listener of Mozart’s ‘Per pietà’, written for Ferrarese shortly after, and which it surely influenced. This is a noble and powerful piece.
Others that demand to be mentioned here include a couple with spectacular orchestral writing: one from La fiera di Venezia with solo parts for flute and oboe, a real virtuoso piece, with lots of top Ds, and one from La secchia rapita with its dialogues with oboe and its arresting trumpet interventions (Bartoli’s articulation of the semiquavers here is immaculate, the notes analogous to perfect rows of pearls). Then there are the two pieces from Palmira, a late work (1795), and written with a refinement and an economy of means typical of this neo-classical time. And from the opposite end of his career comes the aria, again with dialogue with the oboe, and with a Gluckian serenity and quiet depth of feeling.
I need hardly say that Bartoli is an enormously accomplished artist: every note plumb in the middle, the words always carefully placed, naturally musical phrasing, and of course beauty and variety of tone. Adám Fischer accompanies attentively and produces much musicianly and finely modulated playing from the Age of Enlightenment Orchestra whose timbres set off the voice perfectly.