Vocal Teamwork - Rare Operatic Ensembles

A fine tribute to the man who led us so rewardingly along opera’s byways

Author: 
John Steane

Vocal Teamwork - Rare Operatic Ensembles

  • Bianca e Falliero (or Il consiglio dei tre), 'Va' crudel (Duetto)
  • Dinorah, '(Le) pardon de Ploërmel', Il faut se hâter (Duetto)
  • (L')Esule di Granata, Cara, il soave istante (Terzetto)
  • Emma d'Antiochia, Cielo! Sei tu che il vindice (Terzetto)
  • Ricciardo e Zoraide, Cessi omai quel tuo rigore (Quartetto)
  • Medea in Corinto, Ah! Se manco a te di fede (Quintetto)
  • Margherita d'Anjou, Oh rabbia! Oh furore!
  • (Li) Sposi in Cimento, Siamo marito e moglie
  • Gianni da Calais, Tu in grembo all'innocenza (Sextet)
  • (L')Agnese, Se la smarrita agnella
  • Guillaume Tell, Viva Vallace! Vallace Viva (Act 5 Finale in Vallace version)
  • Maria Stuart, Regina di Scozia, Terribil momento
  • Macbeth, Sangue a me quell' ombra chiede
  • (L') Assedio di Calais, Raddoppia i baci tuoi

From duet to nonet, ‘elaborate formality’ to ‘emotionally charged’ ensemble; from (precisely) Luigi Mosca to Giacomo Meyerbeer (but essentially Rossini to Donizetti), and from (broadly) 1800 to 1860 (but concentrating on the middle decades). Those are the main lines of progression in this recital, and it must be said that with the progression goes a sense of progress.

Note the phrases in quotation marks. They come from the short introductory note by the late and lamented Patric Schmid. It is largely thanks to him and his colleagues at Opera Rara that we now have a fairly comprehensive familiarity and a greatly enhanced appreciation of early 19th-century Italian opera, a period which until recently was not only neglected but pretty widely despised. If this anthology turns out to be his last contribution to the CD catalogue, it gives us an opportunity to view in retrospect a good range of his work: it is unlikely that without him any of the items recorded here would have reached us.

All have the merit of well turned melodic writing; and until the last few in the programme they also share a limitation in the unadventurous nature of their interest in harmony. The nonet in Donizetti’s L’assedio di Calais is rich in poignant harmonic development compared with most. The sextet from Gianni di Calais is another that extends the range, and adds some rhythmic interest, too. Shining above all in inspired invention is the passage from Rossini’s mysteriously titled Vallace. A typical offering from Opera Rara, this is the 1836 Italian version of Guillaume Tell, with Scotland instead of Switzerland as its setting and the title-role bestowed upon the rebel William Wallace.

With very few exceptions (I don’t care much for the strident tones of Rockwell Blake in Gianni di Calais or the uneven voice-production of Eiddwen Harrhy in Agnese) the singing is more than acceptable. Majella Cullagh and Jennifer Larmore set the standard in their duet on the first track, ‘Va crudel’, and Della Jones sets the seal on her arrival in the last, the nonet. The respective conductors keep firm control, recorded sound is fine, and Erica Jeal has written useful notes for the booklet.

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