Sunday, March 27, 2011

Saverio Mercadante - Virginia - Benini, London Philharmonic Orchestra







Virginia is given two dates because, though completed in 1851, the Neapolitan censor would not approve the libretto, so the composer put the work away until the situation became favorable, all recounted in Jeremy Commons’s accompanying essay. The plebians Virginia and Icilio are betrothed, but the noble Appio wants her for himself; however, miscegenation between plebs and nobles is illegal. After much machination, Virginio stabs his daughter after Appio has had Icilio murdered, so that Appio will not have his way. Confrontations are many, including a duet for the tenors Appio and Icilio, not to mention the finale to Saverio Mercadante act I, which is a trio for the two men and Virginia. Mercadante’s long-lined melodies are still a significant feature of his work, as well as the cabalettas, which vary in effectiveness. The concertati of the other two finales are as imposing as any written by the composer, with an introductory stanza by one of the principals followed by a grand ensemble. Once again, it is the soprano who seems to be from another age when vocal extravagance was important, but the same is true of Verdi’s operas of that period, where his heroines must also carry out amazing feats of derring-do. Yes, there are similarities in formal structure, but we sense that the older composer is no longer seeking originality, while the younger man is for the moment writing operas that are more and more concise.

Maurizio Benini and the London Philharmonic are in superb form, instrumental obbligatos eliciting sterling performances. Susan Patterson—a newcomer to the Opera Rara ranks—in the title role shows off a voice capable of all the composer’s demands, from sheer virtuosity to loving fiancée to tragic figure. I was far less happy with the Appio of Paul Charles Clarke, whose tendency to break the vocal line with overly emphatic vowels often had me cringing. Charles Castronovo’s Icilio is quite different, the voice not as rich but making his dramatic points while remaining musical. The microphone is not always kind to his rapid vibrato. Stefano Antonucci’s Virginio may not offer the tonal clarity or richness of some other baritones, but his command of line is never in doubt, so the dilemma with which he is confronted is clearly rendered. Andrew Foster-Williams’s few utterances show off a nicely contrasted bass voice.--Joel Kasow

Performer:  Paul Charles Clarke (Tenor), Andrew Foster-Williams (Bass Baritone), Susan Patterson (Soprano),
Charles Castronovo (Tenor), Katherine Manley (Soprano), Mark Le Brocq (Tenor),
Stefano Antonucci (Baritone)
Conductor:  Maurizio Benini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Geoffrey Mitchell Choir,  London Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic
Written: 1824; Vienna, Austria 


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