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"Arias for Anna De Amicis"

Teodora Gheorghiu, soprano
Les Talens Lyriques
Dir: Christophe Rousset

rec: Nov 2010, Paris, Église Saint Pierre
Aparté - AP021 (© 2011) (81'39")
Liner-notes: E/F; lyrics - translations: E/F
Cover & track-list

Johann Christian BACH (1735-1782): Zanaida (Warb G 5) (Tortorella abbandonata, aria; Mentre volgo intorno il piede, aria); Giovanni Battista BORGHI (1738-1796): Il trionfo di Clelia (Tanto avvezza alle sventure, aria); Pasquale CAFARO (1716-1787): Antigono (E fra tante tempeste - Se balena, rec & aria); Christoph Willibald VON GLUCK (1714-1787): Orfeo ed Euridice (Qual vita è questa mai - Che fiero momento, rec & aria); Nicolò JOMMELLI (1714-1774): Armida abbandonata (Miser'Armida - Odio, furor, dispetto, rec & aria); Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791): Lucio Silla (KV 135) (Vanne, t'affretta - Ah se il crudel, rec & aria; In un istante - Parto, m'affretto, rec & aria; Sposo ... mia vita - Fra in pensier, rec & aria; Dalla sponda tenebrosa, aria); Josef MYSLIVECEK (1737-1781): Romolo ed Ersilia (Sorprender mi vorresti, aria; Basta così vincesti, aria)

Now and then opera singers discover or are convinced by conductors that Mozart wasn't the only composer in the late 18th century who knew how to write an opera. One of them is the Romanian soprano Teodora Gheorghiu who has recorded a disc with arias by contemporaries of Mozart. Some of these are almost completely neglected, like Giovanni Battista Borghi and Pasquale Cafaro. The others are better-known, but the operas by Nicolò Jommelli, Josef Myslivecek or Johann Christian Bach are not exactly part of the canon of 18th century opera repertoire. Sometimes one of their operas is performed in one of the more adventurous opera houses, but it is mostly during festivals that such works are performed. Christoph Willibald von Gluck may be one of the most famous opera composers of the 18th century, only a handful of his works for the music theatre are regularly performed.

From a historical perspective this disc is more than welcome. Let us have a look at the two least-known names in the programme. Pasquale Cafaro belongs to the Neapolitan school; he entered the Conservatorio di S Maria della Pietà dei Turchini in 1735 where he studied under Nicola Fago and Leonardo Leo, the latter being at the time the most prominent composer in Naples, especially famous for his operas. He remained in Naples until his death; in 1759 he became a teacher at the same conservatory he himself had attended. As a composer he was active in the field of opera, oratorio, cantata and church music. He was praised by contemporaries for "grace and purity of style". His Antigono dates from 1770 and is his last opera.

Giovanni Battista Borghi studied at the same conservatory as Cafaro, from 1757 to 1759. He acted as maestro di cappella at Orvieto Cathedral from 1759 to 1778 and then at the Santa Casa of Loreto until his death. In the meantime he composed a considerable number of operas which were performed in Venice, Florence and Rome. During the first fifteen years of his career he composed both opere serie and opere buffe; after 1777 he only composed works in the serious genre. In the article about Borghi in New Grove it is stated that in the 1770s "his serious operas have arias of extreme length". 'Tanto avezza alle sventure' from Il trionfo di Clelia bears witness to that: it lasts 9'45", and is one of the two longest arias in the programme. Cafaro's aria is of about the same length.

The central figure in the programme is Anna-Lucia De Amicis, a famous singer who frequently performed in operas from the 1760s to the early 1780s. She received the highest praise from father and son Mozart, and she took part in the performances of the latter's Lucio Silla in 1772/73. What is especially interesting is that this disc contains arias from operas in which Anna-Lucia De Amicis has actually sung. That makes this disc even more interesting as it is the illustration of the career of a famous singer of the past. She was especially admired for her staccato, and that is demonstrated in the arias by Johann Christian Bach, Cafaro and Mozart. Teodora Gheorghiu has no problems in this department either. She has a quite dramatic voice and her virtuosity is impressive. De Amicis' singing was also characterised as "delicate", and that is not exactly the most noticeable feature of Ms Gheorghiu. Those arias which, according to the liner-notes, require "simple expression" don't come off that well. There is a lack of subtlety in Borghi's aria; the two arias by Myslivecek are relatively well-done. De Amicis was also considered the ideal interpreter of Gluck operas; here the aria 'Che fiero momento' from Orfeo ed Euridice doesn't make much impression.

There can be no doubt about Ms Gheorghiu's vocal capabilities, but stylistically her singing is much less convincing, for instance because of her incessant and pretty wide vibrato, which is often hardly distinguishable from a trill. That also results in the texts being mostly hard to understand. But we get here fine arias from some largely forgotten operas and that cannot be appreciated enough. Les Talens Lyriques give good support and show a wide palette of colours in the sometimes extensive orchestral introductions.

Johan van Veen (© 2012)

Relevant links:

Teodora Gheorghiu
Les Talens Lyriques

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