Friday, March 18, 2011

Saverio Mercadante - Orazi e Curiazi - Parry, Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus

Mercadante has his own voice, peculiarly vital and martial, relying heavily on alla marcia tempi and blocks of blaring brass, alternating with moments of genuine pathos. There are some really engaging extended duets between soprano and tenor, and baritone and tenor, reminiscent of "I Puritani" and the best of Donizetti. Despite his declared intent to purify and cleanse operatic convention à la Gluck, Mercadante was no more able than any other successful composer of his day to shake off the forms his audiences demanded, so the required cabalettas and static choruses persist, but he mostly succeeds in giving them Saverio Mercadante in a portrait by Andrea Cefaly (Museo di San Martino, Naples) drama and emotional sincerity by a combination of musical invention and swift-moving concentration. He is not the melodist that the best of his contemporaries were, but he employs many, oddly engaging, harmonic sidesteps and unexpected turns in the melodic line. He also has at his service a bold, compact libretto which sustains dramatic confrontation and permits quiter moments of reflection to counter the facile accusation that he was an unremittingly "loud" composer. Set pieces such as the tenor's recitative and aria which open Act 3 can stand comparison with anything Verdi wrote in the 1840's, I think. He manages a telling juxtaposition between the brutal, macho world of Roman honour and warfare and the tender desperation of thwarted love and shattered friendship, making original use of harps, cor anglais and even silences.
Chief in counteracting the preponderance of testosterone in this score is the extraordinary Nelly Miricioiu, who here justifies the inevitable, clichéd comparison with Callas. She does indeed often sound like La Divina in her vocal colouring and use of portamento. She produces some miraculous pianissimi, displays spectacular coloratura and lets rip in the more fraught moments like a proper spinto soprano. She is very touching in her misery - an utterly convincing vocal actress - and does some remarkable things with her voice, the odd moment of cloudy diction and questionable intonation notwithstanding. The supporting cast is very strong: Marcus Jerome does not have an especially large or juicy tenor but it is sweet, plangent and penetrating; that aria I mention above which opens Act 3 is a peach. He is well matched by Anthony Michaels-Moore's strong flexible baritone and Alastair Miles' sonorous bass as the elder Orazio. The playing - especially by the brass and woodwind - and conducting are exemplary.  
Orazi e Curiazi, tragedia lirica
Composed by Saverio Mercadante
Performed by Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus
with Nelly Miricioiu, Jennifer Rhys-Davies, Marcus Jerome, Anthony Michaels-Moore, Alastair Miles, Paul Nilon
Conducted by Paul McGrath, David Parry
flac, covers

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