A Thrilling Rarity
dwadefoley | New York, New York United States | 09/15/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The story of Emma d'Antiochia is depressing indeed. During the Crusades, Corrado, Count of Tyre, returns from a relaxing holiday of Muslim-bashing with a new wife, Emma. Meanwhile, his nephew, Ruggiero, is about to marry Corrado's daughter, Adelia (no, Tyre is not in Appalachia). Adelia doesn't trust her boyfriend, and is suspicious that he never really got over his first love. Not surprisingly, it turns out that his first love was none other than Emma. Of course, Emma and Ruggiero try to hide their former acquaintance, but after soldiering on for all of ten minutes, they can't keep their hands to themselves. They are eventually caught in flagrante delicto after deciding to elope together. A furious but forgiving Corrado exiles Ruggiero, Adelia goes bonkers, and Emma guzzles poison while her young Arab slave Aladino (who is secretly in love with her) skewers himself on his dagger. In short, it's a typical romantic melodrama.
Opera Rara's concert performance of the opera last October was so enthusiastically received by the audience that it's difficult to explain the venomous response of critics to the opera. "Grindingly mechanical" and "immensely formulaic" were some of the charges leveled, but having attended, and now having owned the studio recording, it is hard for me to understand these criticisms.
With some Donizetti operas, you can hum along even if you've never heard the music. Mercadante continually surprises - and pleasantly. This is refreshing music, and while there can be no mistake about the period to which it belongs, it is seldom predictable. The entire first act is one homogenous whole, without distinct 'numbers' that could be performed out of context. The arias, ensembles, and choruses are melded together with orchestral interludes, some ending with shockingly dissonant chords before leading into other numbers, and the action is propelled forward handsomely as a result. The overture has Rossinian elements, but also boasts a beautiful, nostalgic brass passage (based on the melody of the lover's parting duet) that sounds like Verdi could have written it. Ruggiero's impetuous aria, a masterfully written quartet in Act II, a strangely ominous celebratory chorus in Act III, and of course Emma's shattering suicide scene, are musical highlights in a thoroughly enjoyable melodrama. Only an inappropriately lilting chorus at the beginning of the final scene, and a lengthy and drab scene of recitative for Ruggiero and Corrado mar an otherwise beautiful and original score.
Bruce Ford conveys youthful recklessness, despair, and tenderness without ever sacrificing technical proficiency. His rendition of Ruggiero's fiery cabaletta had my blood pumping furiously. Miricioiu gives a vocally ravishing, dramatically intense, and endearingly flawed performance of a role originally written for one of the 19th century's greatest singing actresses, Pasta (the original Norma and Anna Bolena). I can't say who among the living could have done any better with this exhausting part, which includes an extreme range of emotion and prohibitively difficult coloratura. Although Miricioiu's voice sounds more worn and uncertain than it did ten years ago when she recorded Orazi e Curiazi, this is still a performance to enjoy and to treasure. As Corrado, Roberto Servile is acceptable without being terribly exciting. Maria Costanza Nocentini is quite promising in the smaller soprano role of Adelia, and it is she, not Miricioiu, who gets to belt out the final high note of the opera. Colin Lee makes hay of the small, but important role of Aladino. David Parry's vigorous conducting presents Mercadante's richly textured score in its most flattering light. Jeremy Commons is back again with a fascinating and thorough essay on the history of the opera, and Tom Kaufman presents a complete history of the opera's performances and casts. Don't listen to the London critics: this recording is a winner on all counts.
Flowing, sonorous, and expressive melody...
J. E. ASENCIO-NEGRON | Guaynabo, Puerto Rico USA | 10/03/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Mercadante's richly textured score & refreshingly melodic music in this opera: "Emma D'Antiochia" may add a nostalgic tinge of "bel canto" eagerness to those previously embedded only in Donizetti, Bellini, Verdi... and it is not devoid of unexpected springy rhytms and arresting melodies in the caballetas.
The plot was criticized as depicting the worst excesses of romaticism (an its evident lack of morality for 1830' standards) when the opera was premiered in Venice in 1834:
Corrado, Prince of Tyre, brings home a new bride, Emma of Antioch, only to discover that she is an old flame of one Ruggiero, now engaged to Corrado's daughter Adelia. It all ends in tears, of course, as well as banishment (for Ruggiero) and a brace of suicides (Emma and her faithful slave).
Emma D'Antiochia has some wonderful music from quite another world... one of alarming and fulfilling exquisiteness! It is quiet a feast to hear Nelly Miricioiu sings with a tremendous palette of tonal colors, and a delicate juggling with the phrasing of her coloratura that will make us expect another performance soon, may be of Mercadante's masterpiece: "Il Guiramento"?