dwadefoley | New York, New York United States | 03/21/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Many 19th century critics considered Orazi e Curiazi the zenith of Mercadante's career, and Opera Rara's recording shows why they might have held this opinion. The libretto is taut and dramatic; the provenance is Livy's accounts of Roman history. A simple but compelling plot pits romantic love against patriotic, religious, and familial duties. Camilla, a Roman maiden, is betrothed to Curiazio, an Alban. As the action begins, Rome and Alba are at war, but with neither side willing to risk mass casualties any longer, a more economical solution to the conflict has been devised: the victor will be decided via combat between three soldiers from each side. This more amicable state of affairs seems to free Curiazio - who had been a soldier - to marry Camilla, but as the marriage is about to proceed it is announced that Curiazio and his two brothers have been chosen as the three warriors to fight for Alba, and Camilla's three brothers, including Orazio, will fight for Rome. A despondent Curiazio realizes that irrespective of the outcome, Camilla is lost to him forever: he must either die or be hated by her for killing her brothers. To make matters worse, although Orazio and Curiazio had been the closest of friends, they must renounce their feelings for one another as well. Camilla desperately tries to convince Curiazio to flee with her, but honor demands that he fight. In the end, Orazio becomes a hero to Rome by single-handedly slaying all three Alban brothers after his own have already fallen. Camilla, mad with grief, curses Rome and her brother, and tramples his triumphal wreath underfoot. The furious Orazio cannot contain his rage and runs his sister through with his sword. She dies forgiving Orazio and imagining herself reunited with Curiazio in the next life. Mercadante's brash, rough-hewn score is the perfect complement to Cammaranno's masterful verses. Mercadante is not Verdi: he still inhabits the bel canto realm in terms of the musical forms he uses. However, he fleshes them out in ways that are unmistakably his own. Bizarre, often dissonant harmonies, freely shifting melodic lines, and heavy use of brass and the stage band are masterful atmospheric touches that perfectly evoke the primitive and violent times in which the action is set. Mercadante is not the melodist Donizetti, Bellini, or Pacini were; but one senses that merely giving the listener a tune to hum isn't what he is after. The melodic lines may sometimes be odd and unpredictable, but they are always evocative, original, and appropriate to the dramatic situation - and yes, sometimes surpassingly beautiful. The pinnacle of the opera comes in Camilla's extended Act II aria, which loses nothing by comparison with the greatest soprano monologues of Verdi's maturity. This huge scene begins with an extended and beautiful prelude for solo harp and cor anglais, an impassioned recitative, and a cantabile of surpassing and ethereal beauty. The procession of priests and the pronouncement of the oracle are rendered horrifying by Mercadante's use of a dissonant, alternately rising and falling scalar passage in the string basses, blaring brass, and crashing cymbals. This is followed by a frantic, highly broken cabaletta - one so fragmented it is barely recognizable as such. Romanian soprano Nelly Miricioiu is electrifying as Camilla. This exacting role offers a bevy of possibilities to a singing actress, and Miricioiu is fully aware of them. Although Mercadante relies only intermittently on vocal showiness for effect, the interpreter must have a firm command of coloratura and a voice with enough volume to ride the tsunamis of Mercadante's huge ensemble numbers. The aforementioned Act II aria is a truly exhausting scene for the soprano; everything from the most gossamer pianissimi to the most impassioned cries are required, but Miricioiu is in total command. More than one critic has favorably compared her to Callas in reviewing this recording, and with good reason. While she is not quite equaled by the other performers all of them more than hold their own. Alistair Miles' mellow and expressive bass lends three-dimensionality to Old Orazio's suffering; baritone Anthony Michaels-Moore is a swaggering and quick-tempered Orazio; and tenor Marcus Jerome contributes youthful virility and ardor to the role of Curiazio. Jerome is especially moving in Curiazio's Act II aria, which features many original harmonic shifts and is one of the loveliest solos in the entire opera. He and Michaels-Moore rattle the rafters in the big duet and `oath-swearing' scene, one of the finest tenor-baritone duet in this repertory. And together with Miricioiu, Michaels-Moore's blind rage and subsequent remorse make the final tableau - a vehement confrontation of mounting intensity between Camilla and Orazio - a hair-raising experience. The finishing dramatic touch is Miricioiu's terrified shriek and almost resigned sigh at the moment of Camilla's murder. Her brief death throes and Orazio's guilty laments make a strangely serene and touching end to this brutal melodrama. The presentation is excellent - a thorough and informative essay by Julian Budden is not quite as extensive as those penned by Jeremy Commons for Opera Rara, but it more than suffices as in introduction to the opera. An informative table compiled by historian Thomas Kaufman chronicles all the productions ever given of the opera, complete with dates and casts. An Italian-English libretto and synopsis are also provided, but timings of the individual tracks are not given. The recorded sound is not ideal - at times there is a bit too much echo, resulting an a `churchy' sound, and the voices sometimes seem miked from a bit too far away. But the sound is far better than many live recordings and will certainly not prevent this moving performance from being a very pleasurable listen. All in all, a recording that shows this once-famous opera's best face, and whets the appetite for more of Mercadante's operas. "
Good, not great
John Cragg | Delta(greater Vancouver), B.C Canada | 03/04/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Mercadante was an innovative, exciting composer who well deserves to be better known and better represented in the recorded and performing repertoire. This is an opera of his maturity (Mercadante was 51 when it was first performed) displaying nevertheless many innovative and distinctive features that set it well apart from his contemporaries. Mercadante did not have quite the ability of Verdi to produce block-buster choruses and the occasional aria that brings an audience to its feet, nor quite the flair of Donizetti or Bellini at their best. But Mercadante is more imaginiative than any of them, and most of this opera is as good or better than most of what those rivals had been producing in the preceding decade. This is a rich and highly satisfying opera, which can afford the listener much pleasure.The production by Opera Rara is somewhat disappointing. The singers are very good, especially Nelly Miricioiu in a large and demanding role. She produces some glorious passages, but her overall performance is marred by an almost total lack of intelligible diction. (She makes even the early Sutherland sound like a model of clear pronunciation!) This is partly the result of a poorly balanced and poorly focused recording with a remote and hollow acoustic, rather inexcusable for the date of the recording (1993). The whole thing sounds rather like a weak recording of a live production from some festival performance, except that there is no stage noise and no motion. The same problem of engineering distorting singing affects the other principals, though to a lesser extent. The strong performances of the baritone, Anthony Micheals-Moore, and the tenor, Marcus Jerome, shine through. The chorus is more affected, often sounding as if it is well-offstage. Except for this problem of engineering, the performance is highly satisfying, with David Parry leading a first-class orchestra in a highly interesting performance."
A little on the dull side....
Steve Kowalski | The Bay Area | 08/25/2000
(2 out of 5 stars)
"...if you ask me. Long before purchasing this opera I bought Galway's recording of Mercadante's flute concertos, and I really love that CD. Excellent music from a very talented composer. However I must say that I was disappointed when I bought this opera. It's easy to see why Mercadante's contemporaries Rossini, Donizetti & Bellini remain popular to this day, while Mercadante's name has fallen into obscurity. I found little to stir my blood in this work, and while I do understand that Mercadante was exploring new grounds, it doesn't change the fact that much of the opera is dull. And is it just me, or is the sound quality of this recording awful? I am definitely a fan of Opera Rara, but every once in a while I buy one of their CD's and the sound quality is terrible. Maybe I just get a lemon recording from O.R. every once in a while, but on this CD every vocal and orchestral climax is ruined by crackling distortion. All in all, as far as I'm concerned this is not one of Opera Rara's better productions."
The peak of a long theatrical career: MERCADANTE...
J. E. ASENCIO-NEGRON | Guaynabo, Puerto Rico USA | 06/15/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Saverio Mercadante (1795-1870) composed his first opera, "L'Apoteosi d'Ercole", for the San Carlo Opera House (Naples, 1819), as an invitation from Rossini. Since it was enthusiastically received, Mercadante concentrated principally on operatic composition thereafter. His international break-through came with his seventh opera, "Elisa e Claudio" at La Scala (Milan, 1821: 48 highly successful performances). It established his European reputation in London, Barcelona and Paris in 1823, and in Vienna a year later. Mercadante was very much concerned with breaking away from the existing forms. In "Orazi e Curiazi" (Teatro San Carlo, Naples, 1846) he is at his best: appealing melodies, ensembles with dramatic "coups de théâtre", primeval passions, emphasis on orchestral color & some contrapuntal variety. The level attained with this opera was not surpassed by later works; in my opinion.I enjoyed Camilla's aria on Act I: "Qual prece o voto" (What prayer or offering)(CD 1, Track 1), performed delightfully by Nelly Miricioiu (soprano); the endearing & dramatic-melodic duet Orazio/Curiazio of Act II: "Ardente amor di gloria" (The ardent love of glory)(CD 2, Track 4); and the aria & chorus of the Vecchio Orazio: "Piango... ma queste lagrime" (I weep... but these tears)(CD 3, Track 6).In this opera, Mercadante is at his best: the peak of a long theatrical career. You will enjoy this Opera Rara's outstanding recording."
Rip-roaring entertainment with welcome moments of pathos
Ralph Moore | Bishop's Stortford, UK | 04/25/2010
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I bought this set some while back, having heard some inviting highlights on an Opera Rara sampler. I was particularly taken by the central "Giuramento" scene, which features perhaps the best music in the whole opera: a big, blowsy, splashy set piece of the kind which delighted those mid-19C Italians who responded similarly to contemporaneous operas such as Verdi's "Nabucco", which fostered patriotism in disguise.
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 betweeen 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 drama and emotional sincerity by a combination of musical invention and swift-moving concentaration. 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.
The recorded sound is a little over-resonant as a result of the venue being All Saints Church, Tooting, and the chorus is sometimes too distant, but the ambience suits the large-scale subject and is not really troublesome. I have read complaints elsewhere about distortion but the discs sounded fine to me both on Bose speakes and Sennheiser headphones. The presentation is of the usual, attractive, thorough, Opera Rara standard. This is a remarkably well-crafted opera which presents Mercadante at his most persuasive; superior, I think, to either "Il Giuramento" or "Il Bravo", both of which I return to every so often but which do not afford the same enjoyment as this."