JOSEF MYSLIVEČEK (1737 – 1781): L’Olimpiade—Pervin Chakar (Megacle), Erika Tanaka (Aristea), Maria Teresa Leva (Argene), Carlo Vistoli (Licida), Yasushi Watanabe (Clistene), Saltanat Akhmetova (Alcandro), Pasquale Scircoli (Aminta); Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Comunale di Bologna; Oliver von Dohnányi, conductor [Recorded in performance at the Teatro Comunale di Bologna, Italy, on 23 and 25 November 2012; Bongiovanni GB 2469/70-2; 2 CD, 145:13; Available from Amazon, ClassicsOnline, jpc, and major music retailers]
During the past decade, a concerted campaign has been launched to restore the faded reputation of Josef Mysliveček to at least some degree of the splendor that it possessed in the Eighteenth Century. Born in Prague in 1737, Mysliveček was in his lifetime one of the brightest musical luminaries in Europe, his operas garnering accolades the continent over, especially at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, where he was essentially the composer in residence for opera seria for more than a decade. His dominance in Italian theatres was disturbed only by a single notable failure in Milan near the end of his career, and the enormity of his influence on operatic Europe in the second half of the Eighteenth Century is still only partially acknowledged. What is apparent is that, his importance to the younger composer’s development as a purveyor of opera notwithstanding, Mysliveček is far more significant even than his presence in the historical narrative of Mozart’s musical education suggests. He was probably never actually called ‘il divino boemo’ by his contemporaries, but the inspiration of his work was recognized by colleagues and connoisseurs throughout Europe. That later generations have remembered him primarily as a character in Mozart’s correspondence whose visage was disfigured by venereal disease is indicative of the shortsightedness of ill-informed observers rather than reflective of the quality of Mysliveček’s music. By the time of his death, after which he was succeeded at the Teatro San Carlo by the gifted and perhaps even less-remembered Giuseppe Gazzaniga, the ‘divine Bohemian’ had earned the respect of many of Europe’s most important artists. Now, the time has come for reappraisal of his music to propel Mysliveček into the appreciation of Twenty-First-Century listeners, and Bongiovanni’s recording of L’Olimpiade is an intriguing introduction to one of the composer’s most successful works for the stage.
Premièred at the Teatro San Carlo on 4 November 1778, the feast day of the theatre’s namesake saint, L’Olimpiade was unveiled to the public by a truly extraordinary cast that included the celebrated castrato Luigi Marchesi as Megacle. The libretto, which drew from Metastasio’s most prolific well of inspiration, was anything but new: first set by Antonio Caldara in 1733 and later by, among others, Vivaldi, Pergolesi, Leo, Galuppi, Hasse, Traetta, Jommelli, Piccinni, and Arne, the story was familiar to audiences in Naples and beyond. Even Mozart twice composed music for one of Clistene's arias. Composed near the end of his career, the score of L’Olimpiade contains some of Mysliveček’s finest music, his imagination clearly having been stoked by Metastasio’s text—and undoubtedly by the superlative team of singers at his disposal, as well. Bongiovanni’s recording of the opera comes tantalizingly close to achieving in Mysliveček’s music the thought-provoking results that have become commonplace in recent recordings of Mozart’s operas. Under the direction of Oliver von Dohnányi, the singers and musicians of the Chorus and Orchestra of the Teatro Comunale perform expertly, executing every demand made by the composer with energy and excitement. Mysliveček was in some ways a more adventurous orchestrator than Mozart, and the coloristic effects in the music are shown to advantage by Maestro von Dohnányi and the orchestra. The realization of the continuo in secco recitatives is very literal, which ultimately is to be preferred to distractingly overwrought playing, but it is sometimes difficult to follow the drama and differentiate among the principals without consulting the libretto. Bongiovanni’s recordings of live performances have not always been commendable from a technical perspective, but this release is one of the label’s best. Stage noises are rarely obtrusive even during passages of secco recitative, and there is almost no audience participation. No apologies must be made for either the balances between stage and pit or Bongiovanni’s engineering, and it is enormously beneficial to hear L’Olimpiade in a natural acoustic that enables total appreciation of the fine work done by Maestro von Dohnányi and the Teatro Comunale Chorus and Orchestra.
Italian tenor Pasquale Scircoli impersonates Aminta with charm and slender, well-projected tone, his singing of the aria ‘Siam navi all'onde algenti’ in Act Two distinguished by sensitive shaping of the vocal line and a native speaker’s way with the text. In Act Three, Mr. Scircoli sings the aria ‘Son qual per mare ignoto’ with equal accomplishment, the crispness of his diction bringing the cleverness of Mysliveček’s tone painting into sharp focus. In the travesti rôle of Alcandro, Kazak soprano Saltanat Akhmetova has only a single aria with which to contend, ‘Dimmi, qual è l'affanno’ in Act Two, and she makes the most of it with nicely-judged, firm-toned vocalism.
Japanese tenor Yasushi Watanabe’s performance as Clistene is an unfulfilled promise. His lean, sinewy tone and reedy timbre qualify him for the range and basic demeanor of the part, but his command of the bravura style falls short of Mysliveček’s requirements. In Act One, Mr. Watanabe gives the aria ‘Del destin non vi lagnate’ a valiant effort, and he bravely confronts the difficulties of ‘So che il paterno impero,’ Clistene’s aria in Act Two. He is at his best in Act Three, both in the aria ‘Non so donde viene’ and especially in the accompanied recitative ‘O degli uomini padre e degli dei,’ in which the dignity of the singer’s declamation is heard to greatest advantage. Despite his earnest endeavors and obvious good intentions, Clistene’s passagework often defeats Mr. Watanabe, and he does himself no favors with his stabs at interpolated top notes in cadenzas. He possesses a good lyric voice that in this music faces challenges too extravagant to be fully overcome.
Italian countertenor Carlo Vistoli sings Licida, a rôle created in the opera’s 1778 première by soprano castrato Pietro Muschietti, with excellent musicianship and lovely, solid tone. He displays consistent comfort with the style of Mysliveček’s music, and he has very little trouble mastering the tricky tessitura. A vivid presence in recitatives, he gives a hypnotically-phrased account of Licida’s aria in Act One, ‘Mentre dormi, amor fomenti.’ In Act Two, Mr. Vistoli delivers the accompanied recitative ‘Con questo ferro, indegno’ with resonant passion and brings down the curtain with a strong-willed performance of the aria ‘Gemo in un punto e fremo.’ Mr. Vistoli’s refined technique and rounded tones give great pleasure, and he creates a character whose actions are credible and whose emotions are vibrant without being over the top.
Unfortunately, Argene’s music gives Italian soprano Maria Teresa Leva few opportunities to build upon the very favorable impression made by her singing of the canzonetta in Act One, ‘Qui se un piacer si gode,’ and the subsequent aria ‘Più non si trovano,’ to which she devotes considerable poise. In Act Two, she sings the aria ‘Che non mi disse un dì!’ with brio. As a technician, Ms. Leva is admirably versatile, and she seems to possess rare comprehension of her vocal strengths and weaknesses. She is an asset to this performance and is likely to prove an especially graceful Mozartean in seasons to come.
As sung by Japanese soprano Erika Tanaka, Aristea is a bold but disarmingly girlish character whose misfortunes are motivation for a calm refusal to accept defeat. Aristea’s aria in Act One, ‘Tu di saper procura,’ inspires Ms. Tanaka to expansively-conceived singing, and the accompanied recitative and duet with Megacle, ‘E mi lasci così?’ and ‘Ne' giorni tuoi felici,’ are given rousing performances. In Act Two, she sings ‘Tu me da me dividi’ with palpable feeling, and the aria in Act Three, ‘Caro, son tua così,’ is affectingly done. Ultimately, however, Ms. Tanaka’s technique is not yet completely equal to the demands of Aristea’s music. Though she manages the considerable range required, there is a disconcerting sense of the singer often being taken to the absolute limit of her abilities. Still, Ms. Tanaka gives an admirable performance of a very daunting rôle and copes gracefully with her character’s histrionic and musical tribulations.
Megacle, the rôle taken by Luigi Marchesi in the 1778 first production of L’Olimpiade, expectedly has the score’s most demanding and memorable music. In modern parlance, Marchesi was a soprano, and music written for him confirms that he must have been a prodigious singer in terms of range and technique. In her traversal of Mysliveček’s music for Megacle, Kurdish soprano Pervin Chakar does not prove to be a completely comfortable stand-in for Marchesi, but she sings capably and often impressively, revealing a bright, slightly metallic timbre and security up to D6. In the Act One aria ‘Superbo di me stesso,’ Ms. Chakar sings powerfully, and she accesses troves of concentration and intensity in the accompanied recitative and cavatina ‘Che intesi, eterni dei.’ She combines effectively with Ms. Tanaka in the accompanied recitative and duet with Aristea, ‘Ne' giorni tuoi felici,’ but the femininity of her timbre undermines the dramatic effectiveness of her portrayal. Ms. Chakar infuses the accompanied recitative in Act Two, ‘Misero me, che veggo,’ with undiluted emotion, and she gives an understated but compelling performance of ‘Se cerca, se dice,’ the opera’s most celebrated aria and, according to contemporary accounts and the castrato’s own affection for it, one of the best numbers in Marchesi’s repertoire. In Megacle’s aria in Act Three, ‘Lo seguitai felice,’ Ms. Chakar sings persuasively. Like her colleagues in this performance, Ms. Chakar faces perilous hurdles that her technique only partially equips her to clear, but she holds her own in coloratura passages. It is a lovely, potentially beautiful voice with an attractive timbre, and her performance shows evidence of a capacity for development into a fine artist.
It would surely be futile to hope that the music of Josef Mysliveček will ever be as familiar or frequently-performed as the works of Mozart, and it cannot be argued that L’Olimpiade is a masterpiece worthy of comparison with Così fan tutte or Die Zauberflöte. Judged on its own terms, L’Olimpiade is a fascinating work that provides a welcome example of Mysliveček’s exalted gifts as a composer of opera. This recording, a collaboration between the Teatro Comunale di Bologna and the Scuola dell’Opera italiana, is not the top-flight presentation that both the score and its composer deserve, but it is an appreciable venture that furthers the revitalization of Mysliveček’s standing among the most important composers of the Eighteenth Century.