A forgotten masterpiece well performed
John Cragg | Delta(greater Vancouver), B.C Canada | 05/04/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is Paisiello's one French opera and he adapted to the requirements and traditions of French opera with remarkable success. The result is that the usual French declamatory method of moving the plot forward -- rather than using recitativo -- is handled with great musical success where often, especially for non-French composers, it can deteriorate into ugly hollering. The orchestra is given a prominent role, not only in the dance sequences, but also more generally in the opera. The orchestration is remarkably rich and veried, with some very distinguished writing for the winds. In addition, the chorus is given a more prominent role than is usual in Paisiello's Italian operas. This is combined with some very lovely and molodic writing for all elements. Indeed, the opera is a listening joy, and it may be better heard this way than in an actual performance, since the libretto is a rather stilted retelling of Greek myth.
This production from the Festival della Valle d'Itria di Martina Franca is stunningly successful. The orchestra is first rate with some very distinushed wind playing. The chorus sings with beauty, intelligence and subtlety. The principals are all outstanding and well balanced and their selection was such that the three soprano voices are easily distinguished from each other. The able conducting of Giuliano Carella results in a splendid performance.
The recording, for a live performance, is excellent. The voices are miked quite closely and come through very clearly. Both stage and audience noise is at a minimum. I never found them even noticeable, let alone distracting. One effect of the recording is that the applause sounds very muted.
The set comes with the libretto in French and English and a well written essay on the opera. The booklet contains no information on the performers, except for their names."
A Happy Hades
John D. Pilkey | Santa Clarita, CA USA | 11/01/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This 1803 opera offers a wealth of music in a style dominated by Paisiello's apparent desire to maintain the gallant pleasantness of the 1780s. He holds off Proserpine's abduction as long as he can to the close of Act I to load up on pleasantness before that point. The tone of the work seems less serious than Paisiello's own Nina (1789), despite the seemingly tragic neoclassical theme. Even as Proserpina's abduction takes place, there is no trace of musical horror. In some passages, the opera seems forced in its effort to come up to the mythological theme, which is handled so brilliantly in Gianlorenzo Bernini's sculpture and so evocatively in a Mannerist painting by Alessandro Allori. If Paisiello's work is compared to two operas on the Orpheus-Eurydice theme by Monteverdi and Gluck, it seems clearly to put a happy face on the otherwise dismal Greek underworld. One of the central motives of the Enlightenment is to get rid of our Christian belief in the reality of hell.
Of course the fate of Proserpina is less tragic than that of Eurydice. Ceres' daughter becomes reconciled to being Pluto's wife and gets to spend half the year on earth. Still Paisiello could have put in some hair-raising minor key music if he wished. The work harmonizes rather well with the bright heroism of Cherubini's Les deux journees in 1800 and the high idealism of Beethoven's Fidelio in 1805. Its achievement is totally unlike the monarchic loftiness of French Baroque neoclassical opera by Lully, Chapentier and Rameau. There is nothing like the blood-curdling but authoritative nastiness of Tisiphone and Pluto in Rameau's Hippolyte et Aricie; the psychological trauma of Dejanira in Handel's Hercules; the horror balanced by sweetness in Salieri's Les Danaides; or the frantic diabolism of Cherubini's Medee.
The darkest thing in the opera is Ceres' grief when she discovers the abduction of her daughter. In "Ah! quelle injustice cruelle!" she almost sounds like Cherubini's Medea but in Paisiello's more lyrical, less dramatic manner. The agitated music where Ceres and the Sicilians set fire to grain is a major-key piece more notable for kinetic drive that for bitter anger. Immediately afterward Paisiello leads us into a pleasant Elysium as though it were the whole of Hades where Pluto reigns as a benevolent, constitutional monarch. The voices, French horn and harp of this number are the essential Paisiello. If Napoleon set the tone for this opera, he was attempting to replace memories of the horrifying Reign of Terror-- so clearly reflected in Cherubini's Medee-- with a new variety of stability built out Enlightenment materials."