dwadefoley | New York, New York United States | 08/15/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"International star Nelly Miricioiu, whose Callas-like voice has been featured on many Opera Rara sets in the past, outdoes herself in these four scenes, all taken from operas from the 1830's. Her interpretations are a tasteful and nearly perfect marriage of vocal agility and dramatic acumen. The climax of the CD is undoubtedly the first item. Modern audiences are presented here with a unique opportunity to hear a sample from Mercadante's once-popular Emma d'Antiochia. This is an historically significant selection. So far, the only Mercadante operas revived in modern times have either been juvenalia dating from the 1820's, written in Rossinian style, or his mature `reform' operas, which radically departed from the styles of Bellini and Donizetti and heavily influenced Verdi. The operas lying between these two periods have gone completely ignored. Emma d'Antiochia was written in 1834 for none other than the great Pasta, and the angelic-voiced Eugenia Tadolini played the secondary soprano role of Adelia. The cast was rounded out by the famed tenor Domenico Donzelli and bass Orazio Cartagenova. With such illustrious artists at his disposal, one would anticipate that Mercadante's powers would have been put to good use. This scene far surpassed my wildest dreams. It reveals a Mercadante with a less individual style than he displays in his `reform' operas (i.e., beginning with Il Giuramento of 1837). Neverthless, we can already see that he possessed an unfailing sense of how to paint dramatic pictures with music-and sweep the listener off his or her feet in the process. Mercadante's music is more elegiac here, closer to Bellini or Donizetti than his later works-but he does not follow their norms slavishly and clearly was already questioning these dogmas. The opera does not end with the obligatory aria-finale, although the heroine does have a two-part solo, complete with a powerful, Verdian cabaletta with galloping string accompaniment -at the beginning of the scene. The slow movement of the aria is exquisite and incredibly moving. The orchestration for harp, horn, and cello elevates an already lovely melody to a higher emotional plane. The orchestra has a strikingly original figure before the cabaletta's second verse-a swirling and frantic string passage that keeps the energy of the piece fresh and seems, like a vortex, to suck the listener back into the cabaletta's repeat. Miricioiu milks the dramatic possibilities of this scene for all they're worth. The entrance of Adelia, Emma's rival, sung beautifully by soprano Mary Plazas, marks a point of departure from the musical norms of the day. An impassioned dialogue, starting with Adelia's hurling imprecations at Emma, and then softening when she sees her rival succumbing to the effects of self-inflicted poison, leads into a brief but tremendously effective and beautiful duet. Emma then staggers offstage to die, and a horrified Adelia and chorus (along with bass Ashley Holland as Corrado-Emma's husband) bring down the curtain in a frenzied and shattering coda. Everything in this scene, from the uncommonly subtle and ingenious orchestration to the beautiful melodies, cries out for a fully staged and well-cast revival of the complete opera, or at the very least a concert performance.Next, a scene composed by Sir Michele Costa for a London performance of Rossini's L'Assedio di Corinto gives us a glimpse of a composer whose work has hitherto not been explored even by Opera Rara. Costa was reknowned as a conductor in early 19th-century England, but also was a composer of operas-he wrote a Don Carlos that predated Verdi's by some 25 years. This aria features a lovely introduction with a cello solo, a beautiful cavatina, and a frantic cabaletta with participation from the chorus. Miricioiu gives us an all-but-flawless performance of this extremely florid and difficult aria. Opera Rara's extraordinary knack for finding the gems buried deep in the recesses of Europe's dusty archives and polishing them to their former brightness is never more convincingly demonstrated than here. Miricioiu rounds out the program with two more familiar (though still rarely performed) selections-Antonina's final aria from Donizetti's Belisario, and "Sogno talor di correre" from Parisina. The Belisario aria has not enjoyed a good press with critics, and I have to say that my experience of this aria-the recording with Gencer-did nothing to make me enthusiastic about hearing this scene again. But Miricioiu's masterful handling of this scene-frenetic with guilt and despair-made me completely reevaluate my thinking. I listened breathless to this scene, and couldn't believe I was hearing the same opera I thought I knew. Miricioiu is ably supported by bass Ildebrando d'Arcangelo as Emperor Guistiniano, Alice Coote as Irene, and Roland Wood as Belisario. A good deal of the credit for invigorating this piece has to go to conductor David Parry, who sets an energetic pace and shading of mood at every turn. And although all interpretations of Donizetti's Parisina will unavoidably be held up to Caballe's for comparison, Miricioiu gives Montserrat a run for her money with a lovely "Sogno talor di correre", tenderly spun from her vocal cords like fine silk thread, heavy with the wistfulness and sorrow of a forbidden love.Any Opera Rara set can be expected to have a superlative set of liner notes, and this CD does not disappoint in that area, either. Each of the selections is supplemented with an excellent essay, an English-Italian libretto, and reproductions of period drawings of the composers and singers who created the roles. In addition, Opera Rara has begun to include information about their own artists in their booklets-something conspicuously absent from their previous liner notes. Here an introduction to Nelly Miricioiu will prove informative to those who are unfamiliar with this great artist."
Miricioiu at her most amazing level
Alan M. Silbergeld | Baltimore, MD United States | 06/13/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Nelly Miricioiu is a cult soprano with a devoted following, but not a household name in the average Met broadcast/U.S. opera house subscribing household. 'Tis a pity! At 50 years plus, one now often aware of the wear on her voice, but this album catches her at her bel cantista best. And, at her best, she is one of the greatest singers of the past century. If anyone who has heard her needs confirmation of that, this CD confirms it. The rich, covered tones and the coloratura technique are astounding and moving.Too bad that she is not better know, though that is probably a result of her choice of performing venues and her devotion to Opera Rara's bel canto revival projects. Then again, if she sang standard operas for the largest labels, she would be more popular but there would be no way we would hear treats like rare Mercadante, obscure Donizetti or Sir Michael Costa.She is at her best here and so is the music. The Mercadante makes you want to hear and see his operas in the house, the seldom-heard Donizetti titles, also, and one must wonder what else Costa wrote and how we can get to hear it. Not only the singing but the rich orchestration in the Costa left me drooling for more.So, thanks to Opera Rara and to the miraculous Miracioiu for these treats. If you don't yet own this CD, buy it!"