28 June 2015

RECORDING OF THE MONTH / June 2015: Tri Nguyen & Dima Tsypkin - CONSONNANCES (T. Nguyen; Quator 'Ilios; Lunelios LNL 888 1001)

CD REVIEW: Tri Nguyen & Dima Tsypkin - CONSONNANCES (Lunelios LNL 888 1001)TRI NGUYEN and DIMA TSYPKIN: Consonnances – Music for Vietnamese Ɖàn Tranh and String QuartetTri Nguyen, Ɖàn Tranh; Quator ‘Ilios [Recorded in Studio Sequenza, Montreuil, France, in April 2013; Lunelios LNL 888 1001; 1 CD, 63:29; Available from Amazon (digital), iTunes, and major musical retailers]

If there is one abiding lesson that every tragedy and ill-conceived response of the past year should have seared in the conscience of humanity it is the dismaying fact—indeed, a tragedy in its own right—that the expansion of our abilities to interact with one another regardless of distance and difference has engendered not the expected synergy among cultures but rather illogical but zealous drives to isolate and segregate. Somehow, the compulsion to look beyond one’s own social boundaries, to embrace what one does not fully understand because doing so enriches the experience of living in a complicated but marvelous world, has become in the insecure psyche of modern society a betrayal rather a responsibility of one’s individuality. Robert Kennedy wrote that ‘the answer to the intolerant man is diversity,’ but that diversity largely remains a concept rather than a reality as much in the Arts as in any other realm of life. The repertory of Western Classical Music is as rich a legacy as exists in Art, but what, in truth, remains to be said with the same idioms that have defined music in the West since melody was first borrowed by man from the mouths of nature? It is every man’s inclination to be comfortable with that with which he is familiar, but unimagined rewards often await those curious and courageous enough to peer over the walls of their self-imposed confinement—rewards like those that greet listeners who set aside preconceptions and submerge themselves in Consonnances with open ears, open minds, and open hearts. A degree of cultural integration that would render the notion of the assimilation of elements of Eastern and Western musics an essential component of the future of Classical Music is perhaps only a dream, but this disc offers tantalizing glimpses of the possibilities of music truly without borders. As a confluence of cultures, Consonnances is a revelatory disc. In realistic terms, however, revelations and artistic value are also merely concepts. What makes hearing Consonnances such an enjoyable experience is that it simply is a disc that documents very fine musicians making sublime music together. When musicians unite, diplomacy requires neither words nor politics.

Educated both in his native Vietnam and in France, where he assumed a place in an artistic legacy that encompasses the artistry of celebrated Romanian pianist Clara Haskill, Tri Nguyen is both a composer and pianist trained in the Western tradition and a virtuoso on the đàn tranh, a sixteen-stringed cousin of the zither that likely evolved from the Chinese guzheng, an instrument familiar from many cinematic depictions of Chinese culture. Here collaborating with Quator 'Ilios, Nguyen and the Quartet’s cellist, Dima Tsypkin, fuse both the sounds of the đàn tranh and the aural atmosphere of Vietnamese folk music with the particular sonorities of the Western string quartet. Rather than distorting the textures of either component, their work capitalizes on the ways in which the unique capabilities of the đàn tranh and the string quartet intersect. Though the musical languages are very different, it is impossible when hearing Consonnances not to think of Johann Strauß II’s G'schichten aus dem Wienerwald and its prominent zither solos. Nguyen shares Strauß’s affinity for translating music for what is considered a ‘folk’ instrument into the parlance of mainstream concert music with results that seem wholly appropriate rather than quaint. The 'Ilios players—violinists Buynta Gorya​eva and Iryna Topolnitska, violist Caroline Berry, and Tsypkin—are ideal co-celebrants in this cross-cultural homage to shared musical propensities, their own sensibilities reflecting Nguyen’s Panglossian artistic heritage. These five individuals have clearly absorbed almost every nuance of one another’s styles, enabling them to approach the pieces on Consonnances as dialogues rather than đàn tranh works with string quartet obbligato. The quartet’s playing, guided by Tsypkin’s emotionally-charged performance, matches insightfully-managed tonal textures with phrasing that is unerringly attuned to melodic strands. It is apparent from the first notes on the disc that Consonnances is anything but a pedagogical experiment: this is the music of earnest conversation, cooperation, and the sort of cultural cross-pollination upon which the continued blossoming of global music depends.

Drawing inspiration from their respective cultural heritages, Nguyen’s as a child of an aristocratic Mandarin family in Vietnam and Tsypkin’s as a product of Soviet Belarus, these visionary artists have created music that seduces the listener with sounds both eerily familiar and quite new. The burgeoning romance of ‘Khóc Hoàng Thiên’ (‘Complaints to the Sky in the Falling Dust’), conveyed in throbbing melodic figurations, will be recognized by any listener who has ever gazed into the sky, wondering whether a distant beloved looks upon the same celestial bodies. The wistfulness of ‘Trăng Thu Dạ Khúc’ (‘Autumn Moon Lullaby’) cascades from the instruments’ timbres, and the laments of young lovers separated by circumstance echo through the beautifully-arranged strains of ‘Lý Giao Duyên’ (‘Exchange of Love’). A suggestion of the inevitability of nature permeates ‘Lưu Thủy Đoản’ (‘Waterdrops’), the unsettling gurgling of rain falling into a stream lulled by the union of man and nature in the evocative ‘Lý Con Sáo’ (‘Song of the Blackbird’).

In the vein of the overtly erotic music that opens Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier and the thorny, gamelan-influenced presence of the silent Tadzio in Britten’s Death in Venice, ‘Sương Chiều’ (‘Twilight Mist’) contrasts the oppressive din of the physical world with the frenetic utterances of lovers in congress in inventive counterpoint that draws from Nguyen and Topolnitska playing of stormy brilliance. The Orphic associations of ‘Khỗng MinhTọa Lầu’ (‘Strategist Khỗng on the Fortress’), the music depicting the serene musicality of a master tactician juxtaposed with the cacophony of disorganized martial aggression, are elucidated with stirring clarity by Nguyen’s virtuosic but tranquil mastery of the đàn tranh. He and Tsypkin envelop the quiet contemplativeness of ‘Nam Ai’ (‘Sadness of the South’) in tones that inhabit the realm of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde. The sentimental discernment of their partnership shines in every bar of this performance.

The bashful, hesitant interaction of newlyweds on their wedding night in ‘Lưu Thuỷ Hành Vân’ (‘Move with Water, Walk on Clouds’) conjures the scented aura of the end of Act One of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, but Nguyen’s paramours address one another with sweet words of mutual respect and spiritual fulfillment rather than carnal desire. The grandeur of ‘Ái Từ Kê’ (‘Emperor’) establishes a mood that could hardly be more different, the magnificence of the imperial court invoked by the broad strokes of suspended harmony. An air of celebration also infuses ‘Tử Quy Từ’ (‘The Joy of Coming Home’) with a distinct musical profile that exudes the exquisite pleasures of belonging and acceptance. ‘Rao Buổn’ (‘Melancholy’) and ‘Hoài Xứ’ (‘Nostalgia’) are, in a sense, the most profoundly personal pieces on Consonnances. Here, the myriad of influences on Nguyen’s artistic development are synthesized into a singular mode of expressivity both intrinsically Eastern and unmistakably universal. If an important artist’s worldview can be concentrated into the intoxicating elixir of two pieces of music, these surely capture the essence of Nguyen’s aesthetic.

One of the inalienable rights about which tongues are ever wagging is the freedom to like what one likes without explanation or justification, and Art is an ideal arena in which to figuratively let that freedom ring. The peril against which all artists who deserve that distinction fight is the perversion of the right to like indiscriminately into a license to dislike discriminately. Ignorance is pardonable as it can be remedied, but uninformed dismissal and disrespect are the slippery slopes down which society tumbles into intolerance and unredeemable stupidity. Few children faced with steaming portions of toxic-looking vegetables never heard from their mothers, ‘You might like it if you try it.’ The ethos of artistic nurturing should be no different. Consonnances is a disc via which five musicians exclaim to the reluctant listener, ‘Try it! You just might like it.’ Without artists like Tri Nguyen, Dima Tsypkin, and the members of Quator 'Ilios, without discs of the uncompromising integrity and phenomenal beauty of Consonnances, without the celebrations of identity and community that this disc represents, of what legitimate value is the continued life of Classical Music for which its practitioners and supporters strive?

PERFORMANCE REVIEW: Sir W. S. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan – IOLANTHE; OR, THE PEER AND THE PERI (R. Wells, J. Luna, A. Reid, B. Byhre, J. Kato, M. Gonzales, Jr.; Greensboro Light Opera and Song, 21 June 2015)

IN PERFORMANCE: Sir W. S. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan - IOLANTE; OR, THE PEER AND THE PERI (BAB Illustration of 'The Susceptible Chancellor')SIR WILLIAM SCHWENCK GILBERT (1836 – 1911) and SIR ARTHUR SULLIVAN (1842 – 1900): Iolanthe; or, The Peer and the PeriRobert Wells (The Lord Chancellor), Jacob Kato (George, Earl of Mountararat), Michael Gonzales, Jr. (Thomas, Earl of Tolloller), Baker Lawrimore (Private Willis of the Grenadier Guards), Brent Byhre (Strephon, an Arcadian shepherd), Brittany Griffin (Queen of the Fairies), Jeanette Luna (Iolanthe), Emily Armstrong (Celia, a fairy), Mackenzie Crim (Leila, a fairy), Michaela Kelly (Fleta, a fairy), Alicia Reid (Phyllis, an Arcadian shepherdess and Ward in Chancery); Chorus and Orchestra of Greensboro Light Opera and Song; David Holley, conductor [Produced, directed, and choreographed by David Holley; Lighting designs by Lucas Klingberg; Greensboro Light Opera and Song, Aycock Auditorium, University of North Carolina at Greensboro; Sunday, 21 June 2015]

​‘Some things get lost in translation, I think.’ Thus was the relative paucity of successful productions in the United States of the works of Sir ​William Schwenck ​Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan once explained by an eminent interpreter of these gentlemen’s concoctions that, 140 years after the inauguration of their collaboration, still inspire widespread​ jocularity in Britain. Naturally, the words are the same for American speakers of English, but the language is not: many of the specific social and political situations lampooned in Gilbert’s libretti are as foreign to American listeners as Cantonese and Tagalog. Still, it seems counterintuitive that comedic depictions of peculiarities of Victorian Britain, especially those in the vernacular, are less relevant—surely the most dangerous word in opera—to contemporary American audiences than more serious examinations of episodes in Norse and Teutonic mythologies, ill-fated marriages among European royal houses, and idiosyncrasies of the courting customs of Eighteenth-Century Viennese aristocracy. ​Unless one's linguistic skills are very poor indeed, it is impossible to imagine anything being lost in translation in ​Greensboro Light Opera and Song’s production of Gilbert’s and Sullivan’s seventh collaboration, Iolanthe, as faithful a recreation of any of the pair's works as one is apt to encounter anywhere in the world. Who could be more familiar to today's observers on either side of the Atlantic than inept politicians, ambitious social climbers, and lovers separated by circumstances beyond their control, whether they speak with Cockney or Carolina accents? Perhaps what eludes audiences not steeped in the traditions that shaped the genesis of a work like Iolanthe is why the characters one meets merit interest deeper than that granted to stereotypes. The foremost success of this performance of Iolanthe was the manner in which the ladies and gentlemen upon the stage transformed the symbolic archetypes they portrayed into people of flesh, blood, and real emotions who sang their way into the audiences' hearts.

GLOS's production placed Iolanthe in a visually-stimulating setting that, contrary to many stagings encountered in the world's theatres today, enhanced rather than distracted from the impact of the music. Because of the populist vein of much of his music, it is easy to overlook what a gifted composer Sir Arthur Sullivan was. Via John Goss, with whom he studied in his teens at the Royal Academy of Music, he benefited from a direct artistic lineage extending back to Mozart, and the quality of his work, whatever its ethos, far exceeded the imitation and dilettantism exhibited by the music of many of his contemporaries. Produced, directed, choreographed, and designed by GLOS's Artistic Director David Holley, who also conducted the performance, this Iolanthe enabled the biting wit of Gilbert's text and the considerable pulchritude of Sullivan's music to weave their spells uninhibitedly. Lucas Klingberg's lighting designs bathed Holley's attractive sets and the handsome cast in a warm, flattering glow that focused attention on the production's subtleties. Introduced to London in 1882, Iolanthe was the first of Gilbert's and Sullivan's works to be premièred in the newly-opened Savoy Theatre in the Strand, the world's first theatre lit wholly by electricity. GLOS's production charmingly paid homage to the groundbreaking scenic effects engendered by the Savoy's innovation with illuminated wands for the fairies and their queen, and Holley's scenic designs made excellent use of every millimeter of space available on—and beyond—Aycock Auditorium's stage. Still, there were a few scenic inconsistencies. When the characters, particularly Phyllis and Strephon, looked like refugees from Hogarth prints, it was strange to note that the royal monogram on the guard's house in Act Two settled the drama​ in the reign of the current Queen, Elizabeth II. Likewise, why was Private Willis standing guard on the South Bank, across the Thames from the Palace of Westminster? Considering that the Lord Chancellor's residence is also located within the Palace of Westminster, his sleepless wanderings having led him to the opposite bank of the river introduced a significantly-increased peril of misadventure of the riparian variety! The production was a model of employing adherence to the librettist's and composer's intentions to draw the audience into the soul of their work, however, and its scenic and musical glories were testaments to the intrinsic value of a score that, along with her siblings, is too often dismissed as frivolity.

​​His obvious virtues as administrator, director, designer, and, above all, tireless advocate for opera notwithstanding, it was on the podium that Holley contributed most indelibly to the success of this performance of Iolanthe. Under his baton, rhythms remained taut but never confining, and he infused the composer's melodies with the rubato for which they veritably cry out. Sullivan's orchestrations are far cleverer than the composer's reputation as a purveyor of gaiety suggests, and Holley and the GLOS Orchestra—violinists Naiara Sanchez and Galen Tim, violist Theresa Fox, cellist Karl Ronnevik, double bass player Rebecca Marland, flautist Amanda Mitchell, oboist Thomas Pappas, clarinetist Mark Cramer, trumpeter Chris Underwood, percussionist Andrew Dancy, and pianist Rachel AuBuchon—darted and danced through the energetic Overture. Sullivan's music for Iolanthe contains humorous echoes of a broad assortment of fellow composers' handiwork: Purcell makes an appearance in the Fairy Queen’s utterances, Offenbach's jollity shines through the Peers' and Fairies' choruses, the spirits of Mozart and Rossini soar over ensembles, and Sullivan's beloved Mendelssohn peeks around the corners of the music for Phyllis and Strephon. In Holley's handling, every affectionate tribute, wry allusion, and well-intentioned jibe was given its due, but the prevailing sentiment was not one of parody. Rather, the performance undulated with an unapologetic Romanticism that sharpened the edge of the satire. The surprisingly bold sexual innuendo—though a child of Victorian decorum, Iolanthe was also a contemporary of John Addington Symonds and Oscar Wilde, after all—was timed to perfection, with the conductor as attentive in dialogue as in musical numbers. [I observed similar concentration when I saw Kirill Petrenko conduct Richard Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos at the Metropolitan Opera in 2010, and what a difference the Maestro’s 'pacing' of Hofmannsthal's dialogue made!] Every member of the orchestra performed his or her part with distinction, the playing marred by almost no lapses in intonation or ensemble. Holley’s tempi were obviously meticulously chosen but had the air of spontaneity about them, and even with interruptions of dialogue the music flowed organically. Holley earned special praise for his precise but unobtrusive cuing of all musical personnel. Why has this most basic element of conducting opera become a near-dead art?

The chorus that opens Act One, 'Tripping hither, tripping thither,' immediately revealed one of the production's unmistakable strengths, its cast of talented, enthusiastic youngsters for whom Gilbert's words and Sullivan's music were anything but alien territory. The merry band of fairies, anchored by the appropriately spritely Celia and Leila of Emily Armstrong and Mackenzie Crim, were a source of delight throughout the performance, the lovely voices of these ladies blending ravishingly with those of Michaela Kelly's Fleta, Chandler Clarke, Leary Davis, Mary B. Safrit, Lara Semetko, Georgia Smith, and Shelby Thiedeman. This was followed by 'Iolanthe! from thy dark exile thou art summoned​,​' ​the Fairy ​Queen​'s invocation to the banished Iolanthe. Costumed with a suggestion of Elizabethan finery that established a link between Gilbert's and Sullivan's character and Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queene, reinforced in Act Two by Gilbert's homage to the Golden Age of 'good Queen Bess,' Brittany Griffin brought the ​otherworldly authority of the Sorceress in Purcell's Dido and Aeneas to the Queen's magisterial pronouncements. The ethereal mood of the scene was intensified with the entrance of Iolanthe​, whose 'With humbled breast, and ev'ry hope laid low' drew from Jeanette Luna singing of​ focused simplicity, her warm mezzo-soprano inspiring the wish that Sullivan might have given his title character more music.

With a beguilingly innocent 'Good morrow, good mother,' the Strephon of baritone Brent Byhre bounded onto the stage with irrepressible boyish charisma. His ebullient spirit was not always matched by vocal security or comfort in Strephon's music, but the tender-hearted sincerity of his acting made amends. There was a bizarrely touching hint of wistfulness in Griffin's phrasing of the Queen's 'Fare thee well, attractive stranger,' and she and her subjects took leave of their newly-discovered, half-mortal relation with truly beautiful singing.

Having proved a very capable harpist in the opera's opening scene, Alicia Reid returned as an equally engaging Phyllis, lovingly joining Strephon in 'Good morrow, good lover.' Their Andante non troppo lento Duet, 'None shall part us from each other,' was shaped by both singers with the boundless imagination of young love. Like her earnest swain, Reid's Phyllis was sometimes more effective dramatically than vocally, her tone inconsistently projected and shrill at the top of the stave. She projected Phyllis's love for Strephon across the footlights like a ray of pure light, however, and her wiliness left no doubt that this Ward in Chancery was no one's shrinking violet.

The Entrance and March of Peers, 'Loudly let the trumpet bray,' was a vehicle for the steamrolling of the stage by the grimacing, scowling, and preening assemblage of Peers impersonated with salacious glee by Jason Barrios, Derek Jackenheimer, Lucas Johnston, John Jones, Baker Lawrimore, Zachary Pfrimmer, James Austin Porzenski, and Benjamin Ramsey. Like their Fairy counterparts, the Peers sang splendidly, producing a wall of chest-poundingly masculine sound. The sheer fun of the young men's singing was brilliant and set the stage for the arrival of the larger-than-life but smaller-than-he-imagines Lord Chancellor. Robert Wells burst onto the stage as though fired from a canon, and his voicing of the Lord Chancellor's 'The law is the true embodiment of ev'rything that's excellent' was no less comically volatile. In this performance, Wells was the epitome of the Gilbert and Sullivan leading man: rubber-faced as Red Skelton and limber as a ballerina, he both was unafraid of making a fool of himself in order to elucidate the Lord Chancellor's foibles and sounded as though he could have sung Rigoletto had he been asked to do so. Words rolled off of his tongue like fireflies released from a child's hand.

Combining with Reid's annoyed Phyllis in the trio 'My well-loved lord and guardian dear,' Lords Tolloller and Mountararat were portrayed with the swagger and easy camaraderie of rowdy frat boys by tenor Michael Gonzales, Jr. and baritone Jacob Kato.​ Gonzales sang the mustachio-twirling ​Tolloller's ​B​arcarole​,​ 'Of all the young ladies I know, this pretty young lady's the fairest​,' with the assurance of a dandy as convinced of his own attractiveness as of that of his beloved. Kato answered with a robust performance of ​Mountararat's 'Though the views of the house have diverged on ev'ry conceivable motion​,​' but Reid silenced both of her would-be suitors with Phyllis's 'I'm very much pained to refuse, but I'll stick to my pipes and my tabors​,​' uproariously delivering the lines, ​'I can spell all the words that I use, and my grammar's as good as my neighbours.' Gonzales responded to Phyllis's 'Nay, tempt me not, to wealth I'll not be bound' with a heartfelt delivery of Tolloller’s 'Spurn not the nobly born.’ His glistening, heady singing was one of the performance’s constant enchantments.

Wells proclaimed the Lord Chancellor’s parable in song to the despondent Strephon, 'When I went to the Bar as a very young man, said I to myself—said I,' with superb self-righteousness, utterly oblivious to Strephon’s distress. The young man’s despair poured out in Byhre’s singing of 'When darkly looms the day, and all is dull and grey,' and Luna’s warmly maternal comforting of the lad ideally triggering the scene of affection understandably misinterpreted by Phyllis and her regiment of aristocratic fops. Inconvenient as the reality of being a man of five-and-twenty years with a mother whose visage appears not a day past seventeen may be, who would deny an eternally-youthful mother as gorgeous as Luna’s Iolanthe? Expressing the befuddled and enraged Phyllis’s response to witnessing what she misinterpreted as Strephon’s amorous rendezvous with another woman, Reid took advantage of the ‘long cadenza’ indicated in Sullivan’s score with a rocketing interpolation of a portion of the cadenza from the Mad Scene in Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor. The Act One finale, a battle of wills between the Fairies and Peers, was waged with the confidence of parties certain of their victory. In truth, Act One runs slightly long, but in this performance it seemed to whiz by like the crack of a whip.

Lawrimore launched Act Two with a traversal of ‘When all night long a chap remains,’ the song of Private Willis of the Grenadier Guards, that lacked only the last word in rolling basso profondo resonance. The ensemble’s singing of the Fairies’ and Peers’ chorus 'Strephon's a member of Parliament!' wanted for nothing, the choristers’ voices combining riotously. Their vigor extended to Kato’s performance of Mountararat’s song 'When Britain really ruled the waves,’ which this gifted young singer dispatched with excellent diction and ringing top notes. He and his partners in the peerage melted in the glimmer of Celia’s and Leila’s duet with chorus 'In vain to us you plead—Don't go!' Arguments posed by such appealing ladies can hardly be resisted! Griffin’s sonorous lower register was heard again with pleasure in the Queen’s song 'Oh, foolish fay, think you because his brave array my bosom thaws,’ one of those moments in which the modern listener might justifiably ask whether Her Majesty is endeavoring to convince herself or her frolicsome followers of her imperviousness to manly magnetism. Similar emotions were the foundation upon which Phyllis, Tolloller, Mountararat, and Private Willis built their Quartet, 'Tho' p'rhaps I may incur your blame,' the singers’ voices intertwining appealingly. Gonzales and Kato made Tolloller’s and Mountararat’s paean to friendship more than a comic exercise: like the Queen’s farewell to Strephon in Act One, there was something strangely moving in the daft earls’ devotion to their bond.

Wells intoned the Lord Chancellor’s recitative 'Love, unrequited, robs me of my rest' with consummate artistry, making the scene seem like a truly funny hybrid of related scenes in Händel’s Orlando and Bellini’s La sonnambula. His Allegro ma non troppo song 'When you're lying awake with a dismal headache, and repose is taboo'd by anxiety,’ one of Gilbert’s and Sullivan’s signature numbers, was chirruped with the rousing vivacity of Figaro’s ‘Largo al factotum’ in Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia, Wells’s mastery of the song encompassing almost every syllable of its breakneck patter. His skills as a comedian were complemented by those of Gonzales and Kato in their coltish account of the Trio for the Lord Chancellor, Tolloller, and Mountararat, 'He who shies at such a prize.’ The physicality of their droll interactions was paralleled by the excellence of their singing.

Their misunderstandings sorted out, Reid and Byhre restored to Phyllis’s and Strephon’s duet 'If we're weak enough to tarry ere we marry' the sweet tones of besotted youths. Their singing was here at its strongest, their diaphanous voices uniting entrancingly. The hopes of her son and his betrothed in danger of being dashed, Iolanthe is compelled to again break her fairy vows and reveal herself to the Lord Chancellor, who proves to be none other than her husband. Having long believed Iolanthe to have died and never even having known that he has a son, the Lord Chancellor is at once bewildered and utterly altered. Luna’s voice was like a tsunami sweeping across the open sea in Iolanthe’s recitative 'My lord, a suppliant at your feet I kneel' and the Andante non troppo lento Ballad 'He loves! If in the bygone years thine eyes have ever shed tears.’ Here, finally, was the opportunity to shine that Luna deserved, short-lived though it was. Accepting the inevitability of attraction, the ensemble exclaimed the waltz finale, 'Soon as we may, off and away,’ with unfettered jubilation. It was for this cast of dedicated young artists precisely as Gilbert’s own words indicate: ‘Happy exchange—House of Peers for House of Peris!’

It is easy to dismiss Gilbert's and Sullivan's operas—and operas they are and nothing less—as fare too British for the American palate. As Britons of a certain age might reply, What rot! In his libretto for The Gondoliers, Gilbert wrote that 'when everyone is somebody, then no one's anybody'; a clever conceit, that, but one with unique pertinence to today's operatic milieu. Both the empty-headed praise lavished on productions with the admirable intention of ensuring opera's survival and the undeviating rejection by some connoisseurs of all but artists of purportedly-glorious pasts disregard the genuinely exceptional work being done by regional opera companies from Atlantic to Pacific. Lamenting the current state of this or that once-great institution is an inexcusable waste of time and resources when a company like Greensboro Light Opera and Song offers audiences feasts as delectable as this production of Iolanthe. Reluctant as our society is to admit it, everyone cannot be somebody; not in the lecture hall, the workplace, or the opera house. GLOS's Iolanthe made no self-congratulatory pretensions at being 'somebody,' which is perhaps the most cogent reason why it was.

IN PERFORMANCE: Baritone ROBERT WELLS as the Lord Chancellor in Greensboro Light Opera and Song's production of Gilbert's and Sullivan's IOLANTHE, 21 June 2015 [Photo by Martin Kane, © by UNCG University Relations]I am the very model of a modern…Wait, wrong show: Baritone Robert Wells as the Lord Chancellor in Greensboro Light Opera and Song's production of Gilbert's and Sullivan's Iolanthe; or, The Peer and the Peri, 21 June 2015 [Photo by Martin Kane, © by UNCG University Relations]

20 June 2015

CD REVIEW: Francesco Gasparini – IL BAJAZET (L. De Lisi, F. Mineccia, G. Bridelli, E. Gubańska, A. Giovannini, B. Mazzucato, R. Pè, G. Cinciripi; Glossa GCD 923504)

CD REVIEW: Francesco Gasparini - IL BAJAZET (Glossa GCD 923504)FRANCESCO GASPARINI (1661 – 1727): Il BajazetLeonardo De Lisi (Bajazet), Filippo Mineccia (Tamerlano), Giuseppina Bridelli (Asteria), Ewa Gubańska (Irene), Antonio Giovannini (Andronico), Benedetta Mazzucato (Clearco), Raffaele Pè (Leone), Giorgia Cinciripi (Zaida); Auser Musici; Carlo Ipata, conductor [Recorded in Chiesa del Crocifisso, Barga, Italy, 29 June – 6 July 2014; Glossa GCD 923504; 3 CDs, 205:08; Available from Glossa, ClassicsOnlineHD, Amazon, jpc, Presto Classical, and major music retailers; WORLD PREMIÈRE RECORDING]

Perhaps the first question that will occur to those who encounter this recording of Il Bajazet in their local music shops—such things still exist in some fortunate corners of our world—or in the ether of digital media will be, ‘Who was Francesco Gasparini?’ Like many of the composers of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries whose names gradually disappeared among footnotes in musicological texts, Gasparini exerted considerable influence on musical life in and beyond northern Italy in the first quarter of the Eighteenth Century. Born in Tuscany in 1661, he is known to have studied in Rome with the acknowledged masters Arcangelo Corelli and Bernardo Pasquini, and the reach of his music extended to Britain and German-speaking environs, where Johann Sebastian Bach knew and learned from his liturgical works. In addition to having taught the younger composers Benedetto Marcello, Johann Joachim Quantz, and Domenico Scarlatti, in his rôle as maestro di musica at the famed Ospedale della Pietà in Venice he was responsible for the hiring of a colorful young would-be prelate, Antonio Vivaldi. A survey of Gasparini’s operas, the scores of a number of which are not known to have survived unto the present day, reveals that his reputation was sufficient to secure performances of his music in all of the important operatic centers of Italy and in the music-loving capitals Dresden and Vienna. Premièred in Reggio Emilia in 1719, the composer’s second setting of Agostino Piovene’s and Ippolito Zanelli’s impassioned treatment of the conflict between the Ottoman sultan Bayezid I and the infamous Timur the Lame—too much of Gasparini’s first and third settings, respectively first performed in Venice in 1711 and 1723, is lost to permit credible reconstitution of the scores—reveals a compositional voice very different from but meritorious of comparison to that of Georg Friedrich Händel, whose familiarity with Gasparini’s settings of Il Bajazet can be sensed in virtually page of his own Tamerlano, the libretto for which was in part adapted by Nicola Francesco Haym from Piovene’s libretto. Not unlike the manner in which Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia eclipsed Paisiello’s earlier setting of the Beaumarchais-inspired tale and the sage of Pesaro’s own Otello suffered the same fate after the début of Verdi’s version of the Shakespeare epic, the survival of even a very fine score in direct competition with a masterwork like Händel’s Tamerlano is unlikely at best. Recorded in conjunction with a staged production mounted in Barga's Teatro dei Differenti in July 2014, likely the opera’s first since the opening quarter of the Eighteenth Century, Glossa’s performance of Il Bajazet is a sparkling introduction to a score richly deserving of revival. This, however, is no mere revival: it is a glorious return worthy of the legendary figures Gasparini’s music brings to life.

Beginning with a bustling account of a Sinfonia borrowed from Gasparini's opera Ambleto, premièred in Venice in January 1706, performed in London in 1712, and thought to have been the first operatic setting of the story of Hamlet (though not based on Shakespeare's play), the musical trailblazers of Auser Musici and their leader Carlo Ipata guide the listener on an edge-of-the-seat journey through the opera’s emotionally-charged drama. Guided by the continuo playing of harpsichordist Alessandra Artifoni and theorbist Giovanni Bellini, the Auser Musici musicians provide performances of their parts that accompany, support, and interact with the singers, the wind players carefully matching the vocalists’ phrasing and the strings’ sparing use of vibrato highlighting the many felicities of Gasparini’s prodigious chromatic harmonies. Ipata’s leadership exhibits a thorough understanding both of Gasparini’s unique idiom and of his stylistic kinship with Händel and his northern Italian contemporaries. This is not pedantic conducting, however: in Ipata’s execution of every page of the score, there is the sense of a performance playing out, the drama felt as keenly by the conductor as by the cast. The real marvel of this performance is the seamless naturalness with which Ipata and Auser Musici elucidate every intricacy of Gasparini’s music on scales both broad and intimate. When music like Gasparini’s is the foundation upon which every subsequent generation of composers of Italian opera built, why is this organic authenticity of approach missing from so many performances of well-known repertory from Donizetti to Dallapiccola?

As Zaida, soprano Giorgia Cinciripi has only recitative and a single aria in which to assert her musical and dramatic strengths, and she captivates with every note of her part. Slight shrillness is mitigated by a vivid dramatic personality that propels the character to the center of every scene in which she appears. Zaida’s lone aria, ‘Solo i vaghi, i lusinghieri, i sereni, i bei pensieri sono i fior di verde età’ in Act Three, is sung by Cinciripi with alluring femininity and stylish finesse. Hers is a performance that impresses despite its relative brevity.

The sublimely beautiful voice of countertenor Raffaele Pè is too little heard as Leone in Il Bajazet, but he grasps every bar of his part with unsparing dramatic sensitivity that mines every kernel of substance from his music. In his Act One aria, ‘Non cangiasi per poco amor di salde tempre, no,’ Pè sings commandingly, meeting every bravura demand of the music with panache and differentiating repetitions to telling dramatic effect. An incendiary force in recitative throughout the performance, he shapes the Act Two aria ‘Rondinella che si vede tolto il nido’ with the aural grace of a sculptor handling Carrara marble. The loveliest of Gasparini’s music for Leone is the Act Three aria ‘Dolce lampo di speme gradita,’ a piece that Pè finesses with dulcet, perfectly-focused tone and delicate but well-defined handling of the words. The immediacy of Pè’s characterization of the flinty Leone leaps from the discs, but the evenness of his singing discloses unexpected depths of serenity amidst the waves of steely resolve. Which label will now provide this phenomenal young singer with the opportunity to complement his Leone with a recording of Händel’s Andronico?

Mezzo-soprano Benedetta Mazzucato creates a multi-faceted Clearco whose motives never seem as straightforward as the sentiments of his arias suggest. In Act One, Mazzucato sings the aria ‘Dolce è l'amar ma quel poter regnar’ elegantly, injecting subtle inflections of irony into her quick-witted use of text. The imagery of the aria ‘La farfaletta se al primo lume’ is vividly drawn by the singer’s intelligent manipulations of the colorations of vowel sounds. In fact, there is often more textual acuity than vocal opulence in Mazzucato’s singing, but she is a consummate professional who does not force the voice beyond the boundaries of comfort. The aria ‘Su gl'occhi del mio bene le pene del morir’ in Act Two is truly performed, not just sung, the emotional profile of the music sharply etched. ‘Morte non è agli amanti ambi insieme morir’ in Act Three is delivered with the acuity of a great actress of the Broadway stage. Mazzucato makes Clearco a crucial participant in the drama of Il Bajazet, and her negotiations on her own terms of Gasparini’s musical requirements produce a very satisfying portrayal.

The incisive vocalism and effervescent timbre of platinum-voiced countertenor Antonio Giovannini create an Andronico who woos and wages war with equal propensities but is also a proud, suitably aristocratic prince to the life. He buzzes through recitatives with the stinging crispness of an agitated hornet, the voice shimmering and the characterization displaying a different ‘face’ depending upon with whom Andronico is conversing. In his first aria in Act One, ‘Solea dir all'Idol mio,’ Giovannini sings beguilingly, the young prince’s affection for Asteria coursing through his poetic handling of the melodic line. Then, the singer’s assured performance of ‘Infedele, ingannator, questo mio cor mai non sarà’ sizzles with indignation expressed in spot-on bravura singing. To the aria ‘Con dolci prieghi e pianti’ in Act Two he devotes a wonderful display of concerted expressivity, the prayers and tears invoked by the text audible in the voice. The nobility of ‘No, che del tuo gran cor io sono l'offensor’ is also splendidly served by Giovannini’s traversal, and he sings ‘No, no, non discende no, sì fiero e sì crudel un fulmine dal ciel’ in Act Three with technical and dramatic mastery. Virtually every performance that Giovannini has sung on disc is fantastic, but his portrait of Andronico in Il Bajazet is representative of his best work to date.

The initially diffident but justifiably magisterial Irene receives from mezzo-soprano Ewa Gubańska an appealingly concrete impersonation that ignores none of this complex lady’s idiosyncrasies. Formally introducing Irene in the Act One aria ‘Vieni, vola, e sul mio viso,’ Gubańska indeed invites the listener to come and witness what she can accomplish in a score like Gasparini’s. Allying an impressive bravura technique with centered, amethyst-hued tone, she reaches exalted heights of emotional directness in the aria ‘La violetta, va timidetta, dove la rosa, troppo orgogliosa,’ the timbre evoking the floral allusions. Irene’s arias in Act Two, ‘Ti sento, sì, ti sento ancor nel tradimento’ and ‘No, no: il candor della tua fè quel non è che mi tradì’ are effectively contrasted by both composer and singer, the latter infusing her singing with flashes of warmth in moments of tension. Gubańska leads her colleagues in making the recitatives in this performance genuine conflicts and conversations rather than strings of notes connecting one aria with the next, and this involvement is extended in her solo numbers, as well. The first of her arias in Act Three, ‘Non è si fido al nido dell'usignolo il volo,’ is dispatched with absorbing sincerity. Gubańska’s artistry soars in Irene’s final aria, ‘Un'aura placida, e lusinghiera dopo le pene a recar viene,’ a number that the mezzo-soprano interprets with histrionic simplicity but technical alchemy. Especially in recitative, Gubańska’s singing discloses a gift for turning leaden text into dramatic gold, and a few momentary defects in her vocalism, mostly resulting from pushing the voice in ornamentation, are of little cumulative consequence.

Singing Asteria, Bajazet’s sweet-spirited but ultimately strong-willed daughter who is a pawn in intrigues both amorous and political, mezzo-soprano Giuseppina Bridelli offsets a few uncertain passages with a depiction of contrasting resilience and refinement. Loved by Tamerlano, in love with Andronico, and sworn to filial fealty to Bajazet, Asteria is essentially a property in machismo maneuvering. In many ways, however, Gasparini’s Asteria is a less accepting character than Händel’s incarnation though also less interesting. Bridelli clearly means to craft an intriguing study of a lady wearied by perennially being the damsel in distress. Starting with ‘Parti sì: no: ferma, ascolta’ in Act One, she uses each of Asteria’s arias as an unique weapon in the character’s battle against tyranny and the perpetuation of gender stereotypes. The swarms of fury that she unleashes in ‘Vendetta, sì, farò contro un ingrato cor’ are startling, but in Act Two Bridelli gradually transforms the character into one of three-dimensional relativity, aided by Gasparini’s carefully-wrought music. She employs both the aria ‘Vanne alla belle Irene’ and Asteria’s lines in the terzetto with Bajazet and Tamerlano, ‘Voglio strage,’ as unmistakably personal statements of survival and self-worth. The equivalent of Gasparini’s aria ‘Cor di padre e cor d'amante’ ends Act Two of Händel’s Tamerlano, in which context it is the opera’s climax. The aria is also a high peak in Gasparini’s range, and Bridelli sings it persuasively, her delineation of Asteria’s conflicting loyalties touching the heart. Hers is not unblemished singing. The vocal registers are not consistently integrated, and there are rough patches in the voice in which tonal production seems to be achieved more by will power than by proper technique. These are problems that are easily corrected, however, and Bridelli is clearly a singer dedicated to excelling. In truth, she excels in this performance: in her least-confident moments, she is a memorable, demonstrative Asteria.

The court of the Tamerlano portrayed by countertenor Filippo Mineccia was surely one of unrestrained hedonism. Originated by the castrato Antonio Maria Bernacchi, who became de facto primo uomo in London after Senesino's return to Italy, creating for Händel the title rôle in Lotario and Arsace in Partenope, Gasparini’s Tamerlano is a character almost as oily as Händel’s, and Mineccia revels in slinking through the performance with smarmy sexiness, vocal smirks and innuendos always at the ready. Still, the countertenor’s smoldering-embers timbre lends him almost indecent credibility as a lover. Few singers of any Fach are as successful at viscerally conveying arousal and libidinous appetite as Mineccia is in this performance. In Act One, he phrases the aria ‘Co' sguardi la mia bella’ with the lithe surety of a dancer, and the restrained exuberance of his singing of ‘Se la gloria ai tuoi bei lumi’ is captivating. Act Two is an exercise of Tamerlano’s skills for deceptive love-making, the arias ‘Sarà più amoroso quel dolce sguardo’ and ‘Questa sola è il mio tesoro’ inspiring Mineccia to singing of stirring musicality and unctuous eroticism. Like Bridelli, he uses Tamerlano’s lines in the terzetto with Asteria and Bajazet, ‘Voglio strage,’ to explicate the character’s stimuli. The fearsome aria ‘A dispetto d'un volto amoroso più sdegnoso già freme il mio cor,’ another number that shines in Händel’s setting, is similarly barnstorming in Gasparini’s. Mineccia’s performance veritably trembles with annoyance and exasperation. The operatic Tamerlano brings to mind Oscar Wilde’s quip suggesting that the only real tragedies in modern life are not getting what one wants and getting it. Gasparini’s Tamerlano is a man of voracious desires but limited patience, and Mineccia’s frenetic, prismatic singing not only heightens the dramatic effectiveness of the character but, more importantly, contributes to the high musical standards of the performance.

Interpreting the title rôle, first sung by Francesco Borosini, who was also Händel’s first Bajazet in Tamerlano in 1724, tenor Leonardo De Lisi rightly dominates the performance, singing with a near-ideal blend of heroism and sensitivity. The grandeur of his traversal of ‘Forte, e lieto a morte andrei,’ Gasparini’s setting even more exciting than Händel’s, is imposing, and the irrepressible energy and dignity with which he voices ‘Il suo fasto e il suo furore’ are invigorating. In Act Two, De Lisi tears the beating heart from the aria ‘Dalla fronte all'orgogliosa la corona io strapperò’ and holds it up for the listener’s scrutiny without placing a single note outside of the boundaries of good taste. This Bajazet undauntedly asserts his regal authority in the terzetto with his daughter and Tamerlano, ‘Voglio strage,’ and germinates the seeds of tragedy in his rich voicing of the arioso ‘No, il tuo sdegno mi placò.’ Listeners primarily acquainted with Nineteenth-Century opera may think it strange that the depictions of Bajazet’s suicide in Gasparini’s and Händel’s operas were considered almost scandalous in the Eighteenth Century. Händel’s resolution of Bajazet’s destiny in Act Three of Tamerlano is somewhat more musically accomplished, but Gasparini’s effort, casting glances back to the serious operas of Cavalli, Steffani, and Alessandro Scarlatti, is more moving. De Lisi prods both music and text in the aria ‘Quando il fato è più spietato’ in the fashion of a rider spurring his horse, not abusing the music but using his own talent to fully exploit the inherent power of the music. Prefacing Bajazet’s suicide, his singing of the arioso ‘Figlia mia non pianger, no’ seems intended solely for Asteria’s ears: hearing it seems an intrusion into an exchange between a father and his daughter too intimate for any medium but music. Casting impoliteness aside, it cannot be denied that there have been a few Bajazets in productions of Händel’s Tamerlano in the past quarter-century whose suicides far earlier than Act Three would have been welcomed. De Lisi inspires such sympathy for Gasparini’s Bajazet that the character’s demise is a lamentable loss—and that the lieto fine seems vaguely perfunctory and really rather inappropriate.

Though debates rage about many aspects of the Performing Arts, not least the continued viability of the Classical recording industry, it is frequently alleged that opera as an institution has enjoyed admirable success during the first fifteen years of the Twenty-First Century. With even very gifted singers struggling to find engagements, that success seems worryingly precarious, but an institution that has enabled modern listeners to hear a neglected opera as rewarding as Francesco Gasparini’s Il Bajazet has at least that triumph to its credit. Expertly produced by Carlos Céster, Glossa’s recording of Gasparini’s score is a grand achievement in its own right. Il Bajazet is not a flawless opera, and this recording of it is not without faults. Some of the most enjoyable performances in the history of recorded opera are those with foibles, though, and the singing of an uncommonly well-matched cast ushers this account of Il Bajazet into their ranks.

08 June 2015

PERFORMANCE REVIEW: Pier Francesco Cavalli - VEREMONDA, L'AMAZZONE DI ARAGONA (V. Genaux, R. Pè, F. Lombardi Mazzulli, C. Ricci, B. Downen, M. Maniaci, D. Talamantes; Spoleto Festival USA, 2 June 2015)

IN PERFORMANCE: the cast of Spoleto Festival USA's production of Pier Francesco Cavalli's VEREMONDA, L'AMAZZONE DI ARAGONA, 2 June 2015 [Photo © by Julia Lynn Photography]

PIER FRANCESCO CAVALLI (1602 – 1676): Veremonda, l’amazzone di Aragona; ossia, il DelioVivica Genaux (Veremonda), Francesca Lombardi Mazzulli (Zelemina), Raffaele Pè (Delio), Céline Ricci (Vespina), Michael Maniaci (Zaida), Danielle Talamantes (Il sergente maggiore), Joseph Barron (Roldano), Jason Budd (Giacutte), Steven Cole (Don Buscone), Brian Downen (Il crepuscolo, Zeriffo), Andrey Nemzer (Il sole, Re Alfonso); New York Baroque Incorporated; Aaron Carpenè, conductor [Directed by Stefano Vizioli; Set and costume designs by Ugo Nespolo; Lighting designs by John Torres; Choreography by Pierluigi Vanelli; Dock Street Theatre, Spoleto Festival USA, Charleston, South Carolina; Tuesday, 2 June 2015; AMERICAN & 21ST-CENTURY PREMIÈRES]

There are in the cumulative history of opera many chapters that are sadly incomplete or can only be interpreted with the aid of ingenious musical gumshoeing. The path from Peri to Heggie has covered such extensive terrain that it is inevitable that even some vitally important landmarks have vanished from surveys of operatic topography. Nearly 340 years after the composer's death in 1676, the assertion that Pier Francesco Cavalli exerted influence on the development of opera as great as that wielded by Claudio Monteverdi is now unlikely to be contested. Indeed, not unlike the manner in which the pervasiveness of Mozart's innovation has been reassessed as the work of composers like Mysliveček has emerged from centuries of neglect, scholarship in the past quarter-century has awarded Cavalli a far greater share of credit for guiding opera into its adolescence than he enjoyed in previous generations. Born in Lombardia in 1602, Cavalli, like Monteverdi, had an exceptionally long life for a man of his time: having joined the choir of Venice's Basilica di San Marco in 1616, his career as a musician spanned six decades. Cognizance of Cavalli's operas has increased as performances and recordings of his La Calisto, Ercole amante, L'Ormindo, and Statira, principessa di Persia have engaged listeners' imaginations during the past three decades, but it was not until the 2015 Spoleto Festival USA that the composer's 1652 political allegory Veremonda, l'amazzone di Aragona reclaimed its rightful place in the annals of operatic progress. Brought to the stage of Charleston's Dock Street Theatre, where the production benefited from a venue that in many ways replicates the spatial ambiance for which the opera was created, by an uncommonly well-matched team dedicated to the endeavor's success, Veremonda besieged Spoleto with extraordinary charm and vitality. The notion of resurrecting a forgotten opera often suggests the exhumation of a corpse and an attempt at resuscitating a thing so long dead that it seems never to have been alive. Veremonda sprang to life as though she had only been sleeping—sleeping, it might be said, with her eyes open, one focused on the past and the other on the future.

Whether one's involvement with music is as a participant or an observer, the earnest opera aficionado must acquire the ability to discern passion from posturing. A successful performance renders this an easy task, and Tuesday evening's [2 June] Veremonda was clearly the culmination of a long journey through libraries and archives, unanswerable questions, and hours upon hours of advocacy, preparation, refinement, and rehearsal. Assuming the rôle of a musical Sherlock Holmes, Australian-born conductor and musicologist Aaron Carpenè managed to reassemble the pieces of the Veremonda puzzle with startling immediacy. Composed in 1652 to a libretto by Giulio Strozzi that was adapted from earlier texts, Andrea Cicognini’s Il Celio and Don Gastone Moncada, Cavalli’s Veremonda, l’amazzone di Aragona was almost certainly first performed in the Nuovo Teatro del Palazzo Reale on 21 December 1652—almost certainly, that is, because some sources cite Venice, where Veremonda was heard in 1653, as the city of the opera’s début. An opportunistic artistic response to the Spanish quashing of Catalan uprisings in the mid-Seventeenth Century, Veremonda depicts the conquering of Gibraltar, the last stronghold of Moorish Granada, and the ousting of the Moors from Spain by Fernando II of Aragón and Isabel I of Castilla y León. In the fashion typical of Seventeenth-Century Neapolitan opera, Cavalli’s and Strozzi’s concoction blends elements of the quintessentially Italian commedia dell’arte with somber themes of regal authority, infidelity, betrayal, gender identities, and religious intolerance. As reconstituted by Carpenè, the score of Veremonda is a fertile environment in which the antics of comedic characters reminiscent of those in L’Ormindo are contrasted with the dire plights of lovers like those in La Calisto and Artemisia. Musically, the score contains love scenes as evocative as those for Diana and Endimione in La Calisto, and the effects of the superlative scholarship with which Carpenè prepared Veremonda for modern performance never outweighed his obvious joy in undertaking the task. This Veremonda is a thriving organism, not an academic treatise unleashed from its ivory tower without benefit of acclimation into the often discombobulating domain of greasepaint and theatrical hazards.

With Seussian sets and costumes in primary colors by world-renowned Italian artist Ugo Nespolo, Spoleto’s production of Veremonda, l’amazzone di Aragona ushered the opera into the Twenty-First Century with intelligence and ingenuity. Nespolo’s designs, Stefano Vizioli’s insightful direction, and Pierluigi Vanelli’s savvy choreography engendered a galvanizing atmosphere in which the opera’s drama played out with alternating gaiety and gravity, adroitly illuminated by John Torres's lighting designs. Veremonda’s band of amazon warriors received from dancers Kristen Burgsteiner, Ashley Concannon, Darli Iakovleva, Katharine Irwin, Bailey McFaden, and Starla Wood nimble performances, and their dexterity was matched move for cramp-inducing move by male dancers Tim Brown, Anton Iakovleva, Maurice Johnson, Jon-Michael Perry, Blake Pritchard, and David Vick. The exhilarating, Moorish-style Dance of the Bulls was a highlight of the evening, as was the enchanting dance for the whole cast that closed the opera. Working closely with Carpenè, Vizioli brought Veremonda to life with shrewd fusions of period-appropriate dramatic devices and modern sensibilities. The primary focus of the production was not on an ostentatious revelation of Veremonda as a reclaimed masterpiece but on allowing both the musical personnel to perform the score with artistic freedom and the audience to approach the opera without prejudices or preconceptions.

IN PERFORMANCE: (from left to right) Countertenor ANDREY NEMZER as Alfonso, mezzo-soprano VIVICA GENAUX as Veremonda, tenor STEVEN COLE as Don Buscone, bass-baritone JOSEPH BARRON as Roldano, and dancers as Veremonda's amazon regiment in Pier Francesco Cavalli's VEREMONDA, L'AMAZZONE DI ARAGONA at Spoleto Festival USA, 2 June 2015 [Photo © by Julia Lynn Photography]Amazzoni in missione: (from left to right) Countertenor Andrey Nemzer as Alfonso, mezzo-soprano Vivica Genaux as Veremonda, tenor Steven Cole as Don Buscone, bass-baritone Joseph Barron as Roldano, and dancers as amazon warriors in Pier Francesco Cavalli’s Veremonda, l’amazzone di Aragona at Spoleto Festival USA, 2 June 2015 [Photo © by Julia Lynn Photography]

Like the verses of Chaucer and Dante, Cavalli's musical language in Veremonda is often strikingly modern. The composer's harmonic progressions exhibit an innovative chromaticism that is consistently but diversely used for concentrated expressivity. This was made apparent in every bar by the playing of members of New York Baroque Incorporated. Recovering quickly from fleeting uncertainty of ensemble in the opening Sinfonia, the musicians responded to Carpenè's inspired leadership with their own inspiring performances, each instrument entrusted to an acknowledged virtuoso. Violinists Lorenzo Colitto and Adriane Post, gambist Wen Yang, cellist Ezra Seltzer, and bassist Curtis Daily executed Cavalli's tricky music with flawless intonation—an especially admirable feat with period instruments in Charleston's trademark humidity. Priscilla Herreid played the recorder with elegance that made the instrument a pleasure to hear, and fellow recorder player Michael Collver both equaled her achievement and doubled on cornetto with consummate mastery. No less masterful was the work of Daniel Swenberg and Grant Herreid, whose authoritative strumming of theorbo, lute, and Baroque guitar gave the performance its pulse. Moreover, Herreid's percussion rattled and clanged festively or threateningly as the dramatic goings-on dictated. Seconding the conductor's clear-sighted management of the continuo, Elliott Figg's playing of harpsichord and positive organ was magnificent. The planning of a production of an opera of Veremonda's vintage requires careful organization of instrumental forces according to surviving source materials, and this production benefited tremendously from Carpenè's perspicacious convocation of this team of world-class musicians.

Giacutte, the captain of Zelemina’s guards, entered in Parte Seconda like a storm blowing into Charleston Harbor. Enacted by bass-baritone Jason Budd with rotund, hirsute menace that quickly evolved into good-natured bumbling in the fashion of Osmin in Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail, the character was strangely endearing, a sort of kindly uncle with a scimitar. Budd’s imposing voice boomed like thunder in his singing of 'Donna, che malaccorta non può tener celato,’ but Giacutte’s tempestuousness was short-lived: the only disappointment was that the rôle, too, is short-lived.

With the part sung with such sincerity by bass-baritone Joseph Barron, it was impossible not to sympathize with Roldano’s predicament. Thinking that his son has betrayed both father and king and having been exiled from court, Roldano’s quest to right the wrongs to himself and his royal patron lead to mistaken conclusions and near-fatal errors in judgment. Whether inciting Alfonso to war or railing against Delio’s duplicity, Barron sang boldly, little troubled by the frequent descents to and beyond the bottom of the stave. His 'Signor, non ti doler de' lunghi indugi' was the argument of a battle-wizened soldier, but it was his singing of 'Dove Delio soggiorna, vanne, vanne Roldan, vola e trapassa, offeso parti e vendicato torna'—the outcry of a frustrated father—that was most impactful. The granitic solidity of Barron’s voice lent Roldano authority and made his every utterance assertive.

IN PERFORMANCE: Countertenor MICHAEL MANIACI as Zaida (left) and soprano FRANCESCA LOMBARDI MAZZULLI as Zelemina (right) in Pier Francesco Cavalli's VEREMONDA, L'AMAZZONE DI ARAGONA at Spoleto Festival USA, 2 June 2015 [Photo © by Julia Lynn Photography]Una regina e la sua nutrice: Countertenor Michael Maniaci as Zaida (left) and soprano Francesca Lombardi Mazzulli as Zelemina (right) in Pier Francesco Cavalli’s Veremonda, l’amazzone di Aragona at Spoleto Festival USA, 2 June 2015 [Photo © by Julia Lynn Photography]

The tessitura of Cavalli's music for Zelemina's nurse Zaida did not often allow American countertenor Michael Maniaci to deploy the lustrous upper octave of his natural soprano voice, but the musicality and dramatic uninhibitedness of his performance were fantastic. Travesti rôles like Zaida were common in Seventeenth-Century opera, but they can only rarely have been sung as well as Maniaci sang Zaida in Charleston. The gag of hooking a violin whilst angling in the orchestra pit was managed with panache, and the singer was as light on his feet in dance numbers as Fred Astaire—or, in this context, Ginger Rogers. It was Maniaci’s opalescent voice that was most notable, however. Every note of Zaida’s music was sung with poise, and his phrasing of 'Il rifutar gli amanti non è ragion di stato' was shaped by the command of bel canto for which the singer is acclaimed. Responding to the non-piscine product of Zaida’s fishing expedition, Maniaci sang ‘Oh, oh, mal abbia, mal abbia il pescare’ with droll exasperation. He is the kind of singer who can make an indelible impression with a single line, and his Zaida was a memorable intersection of vocal sangfroid and dramatic cunning.

The rôle of the Sergente maggiore, the regimental leader of Veremonda’s amazon legion, is the source of one of Veremonda’s most bizarre mysteries. In manuscript sources, the character is inexplicably transformed from a bass into a soprano in the course of the opera. Determining whether to transpose half of the part for a bass or soprano was only one of the choices that had to be made in the planning of this production, and the opportunity to hear the shimmering voice of Danielle Talamantes prompted gratitude for Carpenè’s decision to allocate the rôle to a soprano. Like Zaida, il Sergente maggiore does not offer the singer a plethora of possibilities for histrionic display, but Talamantes shone in 'Sorella non sai, ch'è cosa diversa dall'empier un fuso sparar l'archibuso?' Resembling a svelte young Marilyn Horne as Händel’s Rinaldo, she mirrored Maniaci’s talent for enriching every moment of her part with vocal gold.

IN PERFORMANCE: Tenor STEVEN COLE as Don Buscone in Pier Francesco Cavalli's VEREMONDA, L'AMAZZONE DI ARAGONA at Spoleto Festival USA, 2 June 2015 [Photo © by Julia Lynn Photography]Commedia in un cappello brillante: Tenor Steven Cole as Don Buscone in Pier Francesco Cavalli’s Veremonda, l’amazzone di Aragona at Spoleto Festival USA, 2 June 2015 [Photo © by Julia Lynn Photography]

Portraying the jester Don Buscone with riotous physicality that encompassed cartwheels and bounding about the stage with the spryness of an Olympic hurdler, tenor Steven Cole provided levity whenever dramatic situations seemed destined for irreversible calamity. In the first part of the opera, he sang 'Ala, ala, o Guerrieri, fate largo, o Soldati' with the counterfeit pomposity of a man for whom war is a tremendous inconvenience. Cole’s phrasing of 'Il giorno a caccia di selvaggie belve il nostro re sen va' revealed that the depths of his artistry extend far beyond comedy. The self-important glee with which he delivered 'Da caccia il re tornò di cornuti animali' to the audience in the second part, relaying the report of Veremonda’s dalliance with Delio, was boisterous, but the foremost joy of his performance was the quality of his singing. His bright timbre allied with technical acumen that failed him in none of the difficulties of his music, the sheer mirth with which Cole enacted Don Buscone’s shenanigans was infectious.

As il Crepuscolo in the opera’s Prologo, tenor Brian Downen sang ‘Voi, lieti in feste e in gioco’ sensationally, the bravura writing negotiated with aplomb, and he joined il Sole in an incandescent account of ‘Belle donne però sovvenga a voi.’ Still, it was as Zeriffo that Downen unleashed the best of his artistry as a singing actor. In Parte Prima, he voiced 'Nascer libero che vale se dura povertà' with crackling energy, and his Zeriffo interacted with his beloved Vespina with teasing insouciance. The teary-eyed irony of his 'La trista mia sorte mi avezza servendo a star con la morte' was keenly portrayed. Downen brought both more and more appealing tone to Zeriffo’s music than many singers invest in similar rôles, epitomized by his broadly-sung 'Della nave del core, quand'è nocchiero amore.’ With a cheeky smile always at the ready, Downen’s Zeriffo braved every indignity unflinchingly and emerged as one of the opera’s most lovable characters.

IN PERFORMANCE: Tenor BRIAN DOWNEN as Zeriffo (left) and countertenor RAFFAELE PÈ as Delio in Pier Francesco Cavalli's VEREMONDA, L'AMAZZONE DI ARAGONA at Spoleto Festival USA, June 2015 [Photo © by Julia Lynn Photography]Una barca per il destino: Tenor Brian Downen as Zeriffo (left) and countertenor Raffaele Pè as Delio (right) in Pier Francesco Cavalli’s Veremonda, l’amazzone di Aragona at Spoleto Festival USA, 2 June 2015 [Photo © by Julia Lynn Photography]

​Vespina erupted onto the Dock Street Theatre stage in the person of French mezzo-soprano Céline Ricci, whose singing combined the combustive thrust of Vesuvio with the cosmopolitan sophistication of rue St-Honoré. As a comedienne, she mugged with the jocularity of Lucille Ball, but it was the potency of her singing that made her performance unforgettable. In the opera’s first part, she voiced 'Quest'è bella ch'ognun voglia l'impossibile da me!' with unstoppable charisma, and she made the farcical 'Troppo gridan tutti quanti "con gli zoccoli il puoi far”’ truly funny. Even the effervescent Vespina has a streak of seriousness, and Ricci sang 'Bella fede, ove sei gita?' with probity that transcended comedy, expanding the scope of the rôle from one solely of absurdity to a detailed, involved characterization. The devotion of Ricci’s Vespina to both Zeriffo and Veremonda was unexpectedly touching, and there was a suggestion of tenderness in her voicing of 'Delio sen va la notte, amor gli è duce.’ Throughout the performance, she commandeered attention no matter with whom she shared the stage, and Vespina grinned, danced, and, above all, sang her way into the audience’s collective heart.

​First heard as il Sole in the Prologo, countertenor Andrey Nemzer unfurled steady, dark-hued tone in ‘Ubbidente anch’io d’Ercole ai segni’ and the ensemble with il Crepuscolo, ‘Belle donne però sovvenga a voi.’ Subsequently assuming Alfonso’s regal mien, he portrayed the intellectual monarch with boyish guilelessness. The bookish sincerity of his singing of 'Adora, quasi nume, ciascun di rege il nome' was complemented by a traversal of 'Riformar a voglia mia, s'io potessi la Natura' that radiated an intense fascination with the natural world. Nemzer’s timbre shone in his singing of 'Son l'arti che seguo, sì dure, sì gravi, se teco mi stringo fa sì che soavi.’ Such a passive king seemed slightly ridiculous as a warrior, but there was nothing foolish in the countertenor’s declamation of 'Delio, Delio fellone, malvagia Veremonda,’ the king’s heartbreak showing through the steely resolve. Both this and Alfonso’s subsequent reconciliation with Veremonda were in Nemzer’s hands profoundly moving. The baritonal sheen of his lower register contrasting effectively with his sunlit upper register, his Alfonso was a man whose head-in-the-clouds abstraction was indicative of strength rather than weakness of character.

IN PERFORMANCE: Countertenor RAFFAELE PÈ as Delio (left) and mezzo-soprano VIVICA GENAUX as Veremonda (right) in Pier Francesco Cavalli's VEREMONDA, L'AMAZZONE DI ARAGONA at Spoleto Festival USA, 2 June 2015 [Photo © by Julia Lynn Photography]La regina ed il suo guerriero: Countertenor Raffaele Pè as Delio (left) and mezzo-soprano Vivica Genaux as Veremonda (right) in Pier Francesco Cavalli’s Veremonda, l’amazzone di Aragona at Spoleto Festival USA, 2 June 2015 [Photo © by Julia Lynn Photography]

As portrayed by Italian countertenor Raffaele Pè, Delio was the quintessential pretty boy whose vanity was tempered by a noble spirit that prevented his actions from decaying into utter baseness. The voice is an instrument of incredible beauty over which its owner has finely-honed control, and the singer found in Delio’s music fuel that he ignited with his incendiary performance. In the opera’s Parte Prima, Pè’s singing of 'Sia teco in eterno, dovunque tu sia, quest'anima mia' with Zelemina throbbed with youthful passion, his voice combining with Lombardi Mazzulli’s with the naturalness and inevitability of a river flowing into the sea. Pè did not overplay the humor of 'Gran tormento è l'esser bello,' in which it seems that Delio must be a less-treacherous ancestor of Verdi’s Principessa Eboli, but his perfectly-timed delivery was greeted by well-deserved laughter from the audience. His stirring 'Come spira bravura e leggiadria quella Amazzone mia!' and 'Bella bocca, perché tante dolci voglie a me chiudesti' were executed with the ardor of an ambitious Shakespearean lover. Joining first with Veremonda in 'Alma ad alma insieme stretta fortunata goderà in amor gioia perfetta,' with Zelemina in 'Qui le grazie e gl'amori oggi si trovano,' and then with Veremonda again in 'Aura che sibila, fonte che mormora,’ Pè judiciously adapted his phrasing and vibrato to complement those of his leading ladies. The dramatic sagacity of his portrayal of Delio was exemplified by his articulation of a single line, 'Padre, chi qua ti vuole!' The exclamation of a thwarted lover whose amorous adventures are disrupted by the untimely arrival of his father, the line drew from Pè a delivery worthy of Groucho Marx. Credible as a comedian and a lover, this young artist sang Delio’s music with unshakable mettle and a voice redolent of silver and starlight.

​The Zelemina of Italian soprano Francesca Lombardi Mazzulli was a delicate creation whose gossamer femininity disguised an iron will that blossomed when the character came under fire. In the opera’s first part, the singer’s velvety voice and bewitchingly beautiful face shone with love for Delio, with whom she sang a ravishing account of 'Sia teco in eterno, dovunque tu sia, quest'anima mia.’ In the scene at the start of Parte Seconda that found her in the bath, she caressed 'Riedi, riedi agl'occhi miei' with the tranquility of a spring breeze. Lombardi Mazzulli and Pè sang 'Né meste più, né più dolenti siano le voci mie' with intensity that would have been equally at home in Act Three of La bohème. The towering climax of the evening was the vanquished Zelemina’s plea for her life, 'Invitta Veremonda, re fortunato Ibèro, a' vostri piedi io sono, perdono io non dispero.' Accompanied only by plaintive strings, the soprano’s voice soared through the theatre, melting the hearts of Alfonso and Veremonda and enrapturing the ears of the audience. The sweetness of Lombardi Mazzulli’s tone was bolstered by a solid technical core, and not one note, ornament, word, or emotion of the part was beyond her abilities.

​Singing the titular amazon of Aragón, mezzo-soprano Vivica Genaux looked phenomenal in Nespolo's costumes and sounded even better in Cavalli’s music. From her first entrance, she portrayed a character desperate to be the foremost star in her husband's firmament. The sadness that she evinced as Veremonda struggled to divert Alfonso's attention from his celestial musings was deeply poignant, depicted by the singer with disarming simplicity. She was no less convincing as the sword-toting commander of her amazon corps. In the opera’s first part, the indignation that exploded from her 'Delle Amazzoni force il numero è prescritto?' incited her fiery articulation of 'Son l'armi che cingo sì dure, sì gravi se teco mi stringo fa sì che soavi' and 'Oh tradimento atroce!' The current of despair that surged beneath the surface of Genaux’s singing of 'Vada pur dotto marito a contar vada le stelle' swept through every crack in the queen’s intrepid demeanor like a geyser. Even when manipulating Delio’s passion with her own ambivalent designs, this Veremonda’s love for Alfonso was omnipresent. Genaux made of 'Finga, finga d'amare, se vuol donna regnare' an artistic as well as a political credo: the woman born into power must prove her suitability for it, and the singer entrusted with the title rôle in an unknown opera must prove deserving of it. If there was any doubt of Genaux’s suitability for the part, it was erased by her intoxicating account of 'Ti adorava questo core,’ in which her ornamentation exploited the unassailable security of the voice and integration of her upper and lower registers. She and Pè traded vocal blows and embraces in their ideally-blended performances of 'Alma ad alma insieme stretta fortunata goderà in amor gioia perfetta' and 'Aura che sibila, fonte che mormora.’ The smile that brightened Genaux’s Veremonda’s face when she realized that Alfonso had come to her rescue, even with the intention of denouncing her for infidelity, scintillated like a comet viewed through her husband’s telescope. In 2014, Genaux marked the twentieth anniversary of her professional operatic début, but the voice sounded fresher and more effortlessly-produced than those of many ‘green’ singers now emerging from conservatories. Among her gallery of celebrated impersonations of Händel and Rossini characters, her portrait of Cavalli’s Veremonda acquired a merited place of prominence. On the page, Veremonda is an ambiguous, equivocal lady: in Genaux’s performance, she was truly a captivating, multi-faceted heroine whose motives were guided by a primal need to be appreciated.

The accusation frequently made is that an opera like Veremonda, l'amazzone di Aragona does not proffer opportunities for the vocal and dramatic gestures necessary to make lasting impressions on average listeners—if, in the fantastical menagerie of opera, such creatures actually exist—primarily familiar with the recitative/aria/cabaletta formulae of Nineteenth-Century opera. Perhaps that is true if a production of an opera like Veremonda has to its discredit a cast of dullards who neither appreciate nor understand the score. Reviving an opera dormant for more than three centuries is a bit like restoring an antique automobile: it is necessary to completely comprehend the original design, preserve every part still in working order, and fabricate replacement parts to unobtrusively fill gaps for which authentic elements can no longer be procured. This Aaron Carpenè accomplished with the devotion of a Picasso rejuvenating a canvas by da Vinci or Botticelli. If there was a lady or gentleman involved with Spoleto Festival USA's production of Veremonda who did not have genuine affection for the score and the opportunity to stage it, the apathy was disguised with rare success. The acting in this production was not employed in deceiving the audience, however. The actions of every person upon the stage, in the pit, in the theatre, and in Spoleto Festival USA's headquarters were pledged to reinstating the prestige that Veremonda, l'amazzone di Aragona enjoyed three centuries ago. Musically and dramatically, the performance prompted the response that any warring monarchs and their subjects long to hear: mission accomplished.

IN PERFORMANCE: Mezzo-sopranos CÉLINE RICCI as Vespina (left) and VIVICA GENAUX as Veremonda in Pier Francesco Cavalli's VEREMONDA, L'AMAZZONE DI ARAGONA at Spoleto Festival USA, 2 June 2015 [Photo © by Julia Lynn Photography]Vespina e la regina: Mezzo-sopranos Céline Ricci as Vespina (left) and Vivica Genaux as Veremonda (right) as Veremonda in Pier Francesco Cavalli’s Veremonda, l’amazzone di Aragona at Spoleto Festival USA, 2 June 2015 [Photo © by Julia Lynn Photography]

06 June 2015

CD REVIEW: Antonio Salieri – THE CHIMNEY SWEEP (S. Haycock, A. Oomens, A. Farrugia, J. Todd, C. Saunders, D. Woloszko, D. Hidden; Pinchgut LIVE PG005) and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart & Salieri – ARIAS AND OVERTURES (S. Guo, K. Tarver; MDG Scene MDG 901 1897-6)

CD REVIEW: Antonio Salieri - THE CHIMNEY SWEEP (Pinchgut LIVE PG005) & Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Salieri - ARIAS AND OVERTURES (MDG Scene MDG 901 1897-6)ANTONIO SALIERI (1750 – 1825): The Chimney Sweep (Der Rauchfangkehrer) [Sung in English]—Stuart Haycock (Volpino), Alexandra Oomens (Lisel), Amelia Farrugia (Mrs. Hawk), Janet Todd (Miss Hawk), Christopher Saunders (Mr. Wolf), David Woloszko (Mr. Bear), David Hidden (Tomaso); Sydney Children’s Choir; Orchestra of the Antipodes; Erin Helyard, conductor [Recorded ‘live’ during performances in City Recital Hall, Angel Place, Sydney, Australia, 5 – 7 July 2014; Pinchgut LIVE PG005; 2 CDs, 91:28; Available from Pinchgut Opera] and WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART (1756 – 1791) & SALIERI: Arias and OverturesSen Guo, soprano; Kenneth Tarver, tenor; Musikkollegium Winterthur; Douglas Boyd, conductor [Recorded in Stadthaus Winterthur, Switzerland, 1 – 8 September 2014; MDG Scene MDG 901 1897-6; 2 CDs, 104:15; Available from Arkiv Music, jpc, and major music retailers]

Though he was born less than six years before Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Antonio Salieri is often perceived as having been the progeny of a vastly different musical generation. However greatly the composer's recognition may have benefited, the Salieri with whom modern audiences became acquainted via Peter Schaffer's play Amadeus and Miloš Forman's film adaptation is a grotesque bowdlerization of the man one meets in contemporary correspondence and, above all, in his scores. Perhaps there is a measure of truth in the suggestion that Salieri was envious of Mozart's seemingly effortless talent for composition, but history simply does not support the veracity of the animosity that Mozart-friendly narratives have attributed to Salieri. After all, the two composers collaborated on projects including an operatic Sachertorte for Schönbrunn, constituted by Salieri's Prima la musica e poi le parole and Mozart's Der Schauspieldirektor, and Salieri's involvement in the education of Mozart's children after the younger composer's early death suggests anything but a vindictive spirit. There was surely nothing malicious in the reimagining of Salieri's character for stage and screen, but it is regrettable that the composer is now popularly regarded as an antagonist rather than an esteemed colleague of Mozart. As a handful of recordings have proved in the past few decades, Salieri wrote much attractive, interesting music. New recordings from Australia's always-innovative Pinchgut Opera and the acoustically second-to-none MDG label explore the prowess as a composer of opera for which Salieri was renowned throughout Europe during his lifetime. It was an opera by Salieri, L'Europa riconosciuta, that was commissioned for an occasion no less significant to the history of opera than the 1778 opening of Milan’s Teatro alla Scala: thus was the regard that his contemporaries had for his work. Salieri deserves a drastic reassessment, and these intriguing releases permit the listener in 2015 to make the acquaintance of Salieri as he was rather than as he has been portrayed.

First performed at Vienna's Burgtheater on 30 April 1781, slightly more than a year before the première of Mozart's seminal Die Entführung aus dem Serail in the same theatre, Salieri's Singspiel Der Rauchfangkehrer was a considerable success, heard throughout German-speaking Europe until disappearing from the repertory in the first decade of the Twentieth Century. Leopold Auenbrugger's cunning libretto, adapted for Pinchgut Opera's production with English lyrics by Andrew Johnston and dialogue by Mark Gaal, is certain to have appealed to the enlightened sensibilities of Hapsburg Emperor Joseph II, by whom it was commissioned: in the course of the obligatory amorous intrigues typical of Italian opera buffa, which Auengrubber and Salieri lampooned in Der Rauchfangkehrer, there are celebrations of archetypal Teutonic character and the superior quality of German music. Still, Salieri was able to flex his native operatic muscles by composing Italian arias for his star pupil, soprano Caterina Cavalieri, who, contrary to what some sources suggest, was born in Vienna and both created the part of Konstanze in the first production of Die Entführung aus dem Serail and sang Donna Elvira in the first Viennese performances of Don Giovanni. Adapting a hybrid work like Der Rauchfangkehrer for the modern stage is not an easy proposition, and this recording, thoughtfully engineered to preserve many of the benefits of live performances and minimize the pitfalls, reveals that Pinchgut Opera's production of the rechristened The Chimney Sweep did not iron out all of the creases in a score that, from Twenty-First-Century perspectives, presents many challenges. Much of the comedy is genuinely funny, but the efforts at matching the opera's spirit to modern sensibilities are occasionally taken slightly too far. Conductor Erin Helyard and the Orchestra of the Antipodes ensure that the sonic landscape of The Chimney Sweep is that of Salieri and late-Eighteenth-Century Vienna, Helyard's tempi logical and the musicians' playing consistently stylish. The Chimney Sweep is perhaps rather like Mozart's Die Zauberflöte in the sense that the music being said to have been composed in the 'popular' style of its time leads to the erroneous belief that it is not difficult. There are fiendish pages in The Chimney Sweep, and it is for the deft handling of them that this recording is most valuable.

Singing the rôle of Tomaso, young baritone David Hidden has few opportunities to display his attractive voice, but he makes the most of his moments in Act Three, the brief aria with chorus of apprentices, enjoyably sung by youngsters of the Sydney Children's Choir, 'You've got all your stuff,' his lines in the ensemble 'Ah, such pain on you inflicted,' and the final aria with chorus 'Long life to all women, all men, and all creatures.' It is hardly unexpected that he has been acclaimed as Mozart's Papageno. Here, Hidden sings very capably, his handsome timbre clearly at the service of astute dramatic instincts.

Composed for celebrated bass Ludwig Fischer, who would go on to create Osmin in Mozart's Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Mr. Bear's music takes the singer to D2, and the sonorous bass David Woloszko discloses few signs of discomfort with the tessitura. In his Act One duet with Mr. Wolf, 'Oh thou ecstasy of beauty,' Woloszko grumbles and growls effectively, all while managing to maintain a seamless Classical line. Mr. Bear's aria 'To be a singer of finesse' is a clever homage to music in the vein of Mozart's music for Papageno, but the bass's first-rate patter singing is offset by distracting non-musical 'effects' that are dramatically sensible but musically unnecessary. Again duetting with Mr. Wolf in Act Two, Woloszko sings Mr. Bear's part in 'Let fate use us as she chooses' delightfully, the contrast between his raucous upper and cavernous lower registers put to thrilling comedic use. He voices the aria 'Two thousand guilders placed on trust' with the mock gravity of a basso profundo, and his singing in the trio with Lisel and Mr. Wolf, 'Do you still have reservations,' is engaging. Woloszko is a worthy successor to Ludwig Fischer whose natural aptitude for buffo singing finds an ideal outlet in Salieri's music.

As Woloszko's partner in comedic crime, tenor Christopher Saunders is a light but lithe Mr. Wolf. In the Act One duet with Mr. Bear, 'Oh thou ecstasy of beauty,' Saunders sings with an airy grace, and his lean voice makes a fascinating narrative of his nightmare aria, 'The forest's black.' The duet with Mr. Bear in Act Two, 'Let fate use us as she chooses,' is artfully done, Woloszko and Saunders proving as effective a team as French and Saunders. Saunders the tenor provides a splendid account of the aria 'When the storm has raged for hours,' the voice shimmering. The trio with Lisel and Mr. Bear, 'Do you still have reservations,' finds Saunders at his best. Neither his technique nor his temperament is upset by Mr. Wolf's music, and he is impressively stylish as both a singer and a vocal actor.

Tenor Stuart Haycock brings to his portrayal of Volpino boundless energy and a lively presence that is sure to have been wonderfully effective in the theatre. In Volpino's Act One duet with Lisel, 'Lovely Lisel, my obsession,' Haycock sings affectionately but with a slyness that suggests that obsession may be the most appropriate term for his attention. His traversal of the aria 'Fino fino sopra fino' is assuredly managed, but the excursions into falsetto in the aria 'Augelieti che intorno cantate' are unpleasant for both singer and listener. Haycock ably negotiates the vocal line of the aria 'Questo core sta per voi,' and his performance of 'She and I, we fit so easy' in Act Two is endearing. There are passages in Volpino's music that take the tenor to the boundaries of his technical faculties, but he makes earnest efforts and earns appreciation even when the results are less admirable than the intentions.

Soprano Alexandra Oomens depicts Lisel with glistening tone and well-honed dramatic instincts that contribute to a sweet but sassy characterization. She blends handily with Volpino in their Act One duet, 'Lovely Lisel, my obsession,' and she voices the arias 'My Volpin! I'm feeling flustered' and 'We servants for our pains' with technical acumen to spare. 'Gentle sirs, so kind and caring' in Act Two is lovingly phrased, and Oomens's singing sparkles in the trio with Mr. Bear and Mr. Wolf, 'Do you still have reservations?' In the ensemble that ends Act Two, her resolute delivery of 'To be a master of your fate' is a cornerstone of the scene, and her masterful singing of 'Ah, such pain on you afflicted' in Act Three uplifts the emotional significance of the ensemble. Lisel's aria 'My heart feels so light' receives from Oomens a performance that conveys precisely the spirit of which she sings. The soprano's artistry is a boon to every scene in which Lisel appears, and her voice gives great pleasure throughout the range of the part.

Singing Mrs. Hawk, soprano Amelia Farrugia faces some very challenging music, and the solidity of her technique is evidenced by the assurance with which she traverses the rôle's difficulties. In Mrs. Hawk's Act One aria with 'corrections' by Volpino, 'Se più felice oggetto,' Farrugia executes the complex coloratura dazzlingly except at the very top of the line, and the over-elaborate cadenza takes her beyond the upper extremity of her vocal comfort zone. The aria in Act Three, 'In the grey and gloomy waking,' draws from Farrugia vocalism of the utmost poise. Like Oomens's Lisel, Farrugia's Mrs. Hawk is a joy each time that she perches herself in the drama

Miss Hawk's music was composed to order, as it were, for Caterina Cavalieri, one of the most celebrated singers in Vienna in the last quarter of the Eighteenth Century. She, too, is the victim of a fanciful cinematic depiction: far more people likely think of her as the amiably conceited dolt fabulously portrayed by Christine Ebersole in Forman's Amadeus than as Mozart's first Konstanze. Judging by the music composed for her by Mozart, Salieri, and other contemporaries, Cavalieri obviously was an exceptionally gifted singer, and in this performance soprano Janet Todd gives her all to singing Miss Hawk with elegance and exuberance with which Cavalieri would surely be pleased. In her Act One aria 'Basta, vincesti, eccoli il figlio,' which, like her mother's aria in the same act, also receives corrections from Volpino, Todd shapes beautiful cantilena lines into which bursts of coloratura are integrated with artless fluidity. In both the aria 'Is there any greater crime' and the ensembles at the end of Act One, she sings commandingly, leaving no doubt that even among such a gifted cast of female colleagues Miss Hawk is the opera's prima donna. The English translation makes the wordplay of the Act Three aria 'When the hawk makes her arrival' rather blatant, but Todd's singing restores to the piece a hearty dose of the composer's and librettist's witty humor. In the ensemble 'Ah, such pain on you inflicted,' Todd proves an accomplished stylist and reliable presence above the stave. She distinguishes herself with a performance of precision and pizzazz, her musical and dramatic instincts in near-perfect synchronicity.

Each of Pinchgut Opera's productions reveals new facets of this unique company's resourcefulness, and the founding of the Pinchgut LIVE label for the purpose of preserving their productions on disc is an incalculably rich gift to opera lovers, especially those of us for whom traveling to Australia to witness Pinchgut performances first-hand is impossible. The Australian première of The Chimney Sweep was an event worthy of documentation, and this recording is a riotous souvenir of a grand theatrical event. Its greatest achievement, however, is prompting the listener to think, 'There is some really ripping music in this opera. What treasures are buried in Salieri's other operas?'

Complementing Pinchgut Opera's foray into Salieri's work for the stage is MDG's superb recital of arias and instrumental music by Salieri and Mozart featuring the dauntlessly virtuosic Musikkollegium Winterthur, conductor Douglas Boyd, Chinese soprano Sen Guo, and American tenor Kenneth Tarver. The repertory for this pair of discs could not have been more judiciously selected to show both composers and performers to advantage, and MDG's engineering provides a warm acoustic in which the listener feels relocated to a seat in one of the salons of Eighteenth-Century Vienna in which many of Salieri's and Mozart's works were first heard.

Salieri's skills at composing and orchestrating instrumental music are represented by incisive performances of two of his finest opera overtures, those from his 1785 La grotta di Trofonio, an innovative and often exquisitely-crafted score that deserves to be played far more frequently, and the 1788 Axur, re d'Ormus, also a fine work that merits this further exploration. Under the Scottish-born Boyd's baton, the Musikkollegium Winterthur players perform their parts with unstinting period-appropriate technique, unafraid of emitting discordant sounds when the emotional intensity of the music demands them. Likewise, the spirited accounts of inventive instrument music by Mozart—the 1788 Adagio and Fugue in C minor (KV 546), Sechs Landlerische for two violins and bass (KV 606), the Overture from La clemenza di Tito (KV 621, 1791), and the ballet music from Act Three of Idomeneo, re di Creta (KV 367, 1781)—are marked by stylistic unity that does not interfere with pronounced but unexaggerated differentiation among the varied forms employed by the celebrated Salzburger. It is particularly apparent in these performances that Salieri, though not Mozart's equal as a melodist, certainly was not the insurmountably inferior, unimaginative tradesman that modern depictions have suggested that he was.

Anyone who has heard his performances in recently-released recordings of Händel's Joshua, Mozart's Così fan tutte, and Rossini's La gazza ladra will not be surprised by Tarver's beauty of tone, easy negotiations of high tessitura, and courageous confidence in bravura passages in music by Salieri and Mozart. In Ford's recitative 'Ah vile' and aria 'Or gli affannosi palpiti' from Salieri's 1799 Falstaff, ossia Le tre buffe, he shapes the vocal line with faultless accuracy and absolute control of his technique. In Volpino's 'Augelletti che intorno cantate' [the spelling of 'augelieti' preferred by Pinchgut Opera conforms with Auenbrugger's libretto and Salieri's manuscript, though 'augelletti' is correct in modern Italian] from Der Rauchfangkehrer, Tarver's ascents to the dementedly stratospheric passages are stunning, the kind of singing that earns an operatic 'Do not try this at home' designation. Guo gives radiantly-voiced and magnetically-phrased accounts of Aspasia's recitative 'Come fuggir' and aria 'Son queste le speranze' from Axur, re d'Ormus and the fearsome 'Ah! Lo sento' from L'Europa riconosciuta, the opera that inaugurated Teatro alla Scala. Guo and Tarver unite in a stirring performance of 'Qui dove ride l'aura,' also from Axur, re d'Ormus and one of Salieri's most inspired pieces, their voices intertwining beguilingly.

Composed by Mozart in 1783 for insertion into Pasquale Anfossi's opera Il curioso indiscreto and adapted from a text by Cervantes, 'Vorrei spiegarvi, oh Dio' (KV 418) is a ferocious beast of bravura writing. The soprano sings it winsomely and braves the ascents to D6 and E6 with vocal security and spot-on intonation. Here and in the recitative 'Mia speranza adorata' and rondo 'Ah, non sai' (KV 416), also products of 1783, Guo's upper register occasionally takes on a slight shrillness, perhaps accentuated by the fullness of the middle octave of her voice. She and Tarver collaborate in one of the finest recorded accounts of 'Spiegarti non poss'io,' the duet for Ilia and Idamante composed in 1786 for a private Viennese performance of Idomeneo: this performance alone renders this MDG release indispensable. The manner in which these artists use their voices, individually and in ensemble, to communicate the most profound nuances of Ilia's and Idamante's love and distress is an ideal example of what makes opera so powerful. With only a few notes, two gifted singers take from Mozart's score undiluted humanity and dispense it to the listener in sounds all the more poignant because they are so alluring. Interacting with Guo as though they were on stage rather than in studio in the recitative 'Non più, tutto ascoltai,' Tarver duets with the violin obbligato in 'Non temer, amato bene' (KV 490, 1786) with equal eloquence, singer and violinist intuitively matching their phrasing. As displays of both superb technique and complete comprehension of Mozartean style, Tarver's singing of the 1783 recitative 'Misero! O sogno, o son desto?' and aria 'Aura, che intorno spiri' (KV 431) is not only the apogee of this pair of discs but one of the most memorable specimens of Mozart tenor singing available on CD, worthy of comparison with legendary recordings by Peter Anders, Julius Patzak, Anton Dermota, Léopold Simoneau, Ernst Häfliger, and Fritz Wunderlich. Tarver's voice flows through the music on this disc with the freshness of the Salzach as it winds its way from the Kitzbühel to Mozart's native Salzburg.

Many Twenty-First-Century listeners who know Antonio Salieri only from his appearances in the cinema and Pushkin's and Rimsky-Korsakov's literary and operatic fantasies on the themes of his life and relationship with Mozart may be surprised by musicologist Alexander Wheelock Thayer's assessment in his book Salieri: Rival of Mozart that, at the time of the death of Emperor Joseph II in 1790, 'to the general operatic public Salieri was certainly the greatest of then-living composers.' The composer Ignaz Franz von Mosel, a pupil of Salieri in Hapsburg Vienna, wrote that his teacher was generally 'in good spirits and full of life; his politeness, his joyous disposition, his jovial and always harmless wit made him one of the pleasantest of companions.' Both Pinchgut LIVE's The Chimney Sweep and MDG's collection of arias and overtures confirm that the qualities that endeared Salieri to his student and biographer are similarly prevalent in his music. These recordings are indeed the pleasantest of companions.