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Neapolitan Opera Arias

[I] Leonardo VINCI (1690/96 - 1730): "Alto Arias"
Filippo Mineccia, alto; Francesca Cassinari, sopranoa
Stile Galante
Dir: Stefano Aresi
rec: July 2013, Castrezzato, Cavalli Musica Studio
Pan Classics - PC 10297 (© 2014) (74'38")
Liner-notes: E/F/D; lyrics - translation: E
Cover & track-list

Astianatte, 1725 (Alma grande; Ti calpesto, oh crudo Amore); Catone in Utica, 1728 (Che legge spietata); Eraclea, 1724 (Aprirti il seno; In questa mia tempesta); Ernelinda, 1726 (Se soffia irato il vento); Gismondo re di Polonia, 1727 (Bella pace dal seno di Giove); La contesa de' Numi, 1729 (Non meno risplende); Medo, 1728 (Nella foresta; Veno a voi, funesti orrori; Taci, o di morte); Oratorio di Maria dolorata, 1718/25 (Sotto il peso tra sassi cadendo); Oratorio per la Vergine del Rosario, 1727 (Ai lampi del tuo lumea; Chi mi priega, chi m'ama)

[II] "Arias for Caffarelli"
Franco Fagioli, alto
Il pomo d'oro
Dir: Riccardo Minasi
rec: August 25 - Sept 3, 2012, Lonigo (Vicenza), Convento dei Pavoniani (Villa San Fermo)
Naïve - V 5333 (© 2013) (78'36")
Liner-notes: E/F; lyrics - translations: E/F
Cover & track-list

Pasquale CAFARO (1716-1787): L'Ipermestra, 1751 (Rendimi più sereno); Johann Adolf HASSE (1699-1783): Siroe, 1733 (Ebbi da te la vita; Fra l'orror della tempesta); Leonardo LEO (1694-1744): Demofoonte, 1735 [1741*] (Misero pargoletto; Sperai vicino il lido); Gennaro MANNA (1715-1779): Lucio Papiro dittatore, 1748 (Odo il suono di tromba guerriera); Lucio Vero ossia il vologeso, 1745 (Cara ti lascio, addio); Giovanni Battista PERGOLESI (1710-1736): Adriano in Siria, 1734 (Lieto così talvolta); Nicola Antonio PORPORA (1686-1768): Semiramide riconosciuta, 1739 (2nd version) (Passaggier che sulla sponda); Domenico SARRO (SARRI) (1679-1744): Valdemaro, 1726 (Un cor che ben ama); Leonardo VINCI (1690-1730): Semiramide riconosciuta, 1729 [1744*] (In braccio a mille furie)
[*: year in which Caffarelli participated in the performances.]

[III] "I Viaggi di Faustina"
Roberta Invernzzi, sopranoa; Tommaso Rossi, recorderb
I Turchini
Dir: Antonio Florio
rec: May 31 - June 2, 2012, Naples, Chiesa di S. Anna dei Lombardi (Sala del Vasari)
Glossa - GCD 922606 (© 2013) (66'37")
Liner-notes: E/D/F/I; lyrics - translations: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

Antonio Maria BONONCINI (1677-1726): Rosiclea in Dania, 1721 (Lasciami un sol momento)a; Francesco MANCINI (1672-1737): Traiano, 1723 (Canta e dì caro usignoloa; sinfonia; Spera sì, mio caro benea); Nicola Antonio PORPORA (1686-1768): Agrippina, 1708 (sinfonia); Poro, 1731 (Raggio amico di speranza; Son prigioniera d'amore)a; Domenico SARRO (SARRI) (1679-1744): Concerto for recorder, strings and bcb; Partenope, 1722 (Tortora che il suo bene)a; Leonardo VINCI (1690-1730): Catone in Utica, 1728 [1732*] (Confusa, smarrita)a; Il Trionfo di Camilla, 1725 (Scendi da questo soglio; Un guardo solo ancor)a; Parto ma con qual core, cantata (Ecco mi parto - Qual rusceletto, rec & aria)a
[*: year in which Bordoni participated in the performances.]

Discs with arias from operas are quite popular and are released with great regularity. There is something unnatural about them: arias are not written to be performed out of their dramatic context, and lose some of their meaning if performed as part of a concert, whether live or on disc. However, there is reason to qualify this statement: sometimes composers included arias from another opera in a new work or an opera star insisted on singing one of his favourite arias, even if it was from the pen of another composer. Apparently the connection between an aria and the dramatic context wasn't that close.

Aria recitals can make audiences become acquainted with composers they didn't know. These discs are good examples as they focus on arias from operas by Neapolitan composers some of whom are not well-known. One of them is Leonardo Vinci who is the subject of the first disc. Although recently two of his operas have been recorded complete he is still not a household name. 1690 and 1696 are suggested as years of his birth, but neither of them can be confirmed. In 1708 he entered the Conservatorio dei Poveri di Gesù Cristo in Naples. In 1719 he made his debut in the field of opera with a comedy which found great appreciation. In the next years he wrote several other comedies, all in the Neapolitan dialect. In 1722 his first opera seria was performed, which was again enthusiastically received. From that moment onwards he turned his attention to this genre. After the death of Alessandro Scarlatti in 1725 he became pro-vice-maestro at the royal court in Naples. For some time he acted as teacher at his old conservatory, where Pergolesi was one of his pupils. During the season 1729/30 he worked as impresario and principal composer at the Teatro delle Dame. There he collaborated with the librettist Metastasio in the composition of three works. He died in 1730.

One of the reasons that Vinci has remained rather unknown is the fact that the largest part of his output has been lost or has survived incomplete. From most of his operas only some arias are extant and in other cases single acts have come down to us because they were included in pasticcios. The very fact that they were part of pasticcios bears witness to the appreciation of his works for the stage.

Many opera composers of that time also contributed to the genre of the oratorio. That is understandable as stylistically there was no big difference between oratorio and opera. How many oratorios Vinci has written is impossible to say; at least one has been lost, whereas two have survived. Arias from both are included in the present recital by Filippo Mineccia. He also sings an aria from La contesa de' numi, which is called a componimento drammatico, on a text by Pietro Metastasio, the famous author of many opera librettos. This piece was written for a wedding and falls into the category of the serenata.

This disc delivers a good and varied picture of Vinci's oeuvre. It bears witness to his versatility as the arias are of a quite different character. The programme notes give extensive information about the career of the composer and the compositions from which the arias are taken. Instrumentally there is also some variety: Chi mi priega, chi m'ama from the Oratorio per la Vergine del Rosario includes an obbligato part for cello, whereas the score of Ti calpesto, oh crudo Amore (Astianatte) has two parts for horns.

The acoustic of this recording is pretty dry which probably reflects the acoustical circumstances in most opera theatres. The downside is that the orchestral sound is a little flat. The singing of Filippo Mineccia is generally very nice. He has a beautiful voice, handles the coloratura very well and avoids incessant vibrato. His phrasing is good and there is also an appropriate dynamic shading. What is particularly enjoyable is that there is some good text expression which is certainly not common practice, as the next disc shows. An example of his treatment of the text is Sotto il peso tra sassi cadendo from the Oratorio di Maria dolorata, where he singles out the words "spettacolo orrendo" (ugly sight). Alma grande from Astionatte is an example of an aria where Mineccia is impressive in the coloratura. The last aria of the programme is In questa mia tempesta from Eraclea which is a virtuosic showstopper. Mineccia deals with it convincingly, but elsewhere he is a little too moderate in the extraverted arias, especially the storm aria Se soffia irato il vente, and so is the orchestra. In general it seems to me that the more lyrical and intimate pieces suit him better, especially because he doesn't exactly have a 'big' voice. The duet with Francesca Cassarini, Ai lampi del tuo lume (Oratorio per la Vergine del Rosario) is excellent, with the two voices blending perfectly.

The second disc doesn't concentrate on a composer but rather a singer. It is a portrait of the castrato Caffarelli, whose original name was Gaetano Majorano. He was born in Bitonto, but was educated in Naples and that was the city where he felt most at home and to which he returned after his career had come to an end. This career brought him in many cities in Italy and beyond, including London where he sang under Handel for one season. He was generally considered a difficult man to deal with and he was notorious for his arrogance. The liner-notes include many telling examples of his caprices, but are very short on the music performed by Franco Fagioli and Il pomo d'oro. That is especially regrettable as some composers are hardly known. That goes certainly for Domenico Sarro in whose opera Valdemaro, performed in 1726 in Rome, Caffarelli made his debut. We hear again an aria by Leonardo Vinci, from an opera not represented in Mineccia's recital. Pasquale Cafaro wrote a considerable amount of sacred music. L'Ipermestra is one of only seven operas from his pen which are known. Gennaro Manna composed many more, but most of them are completely or partly lost.

As the programme only includes arias from operas performed in Naples it is a little one-sided. However, as this repertoire is still hardly explored it guarantees that we hear music we haven't heard before. Most operas represented here are never performed in our time, and probably have never been performed since the time of their respective composers. The only exception seems Pergolesi's Adriano in Siria, from which Fagioli sings a brilliant aria with an obbligato part for the oboe. The arias suggest that the operas represented here are unjustly neglected.

I doubt whether that is the merit of Franco Fagioli. In my view he doesn't make a good case for this repertoire. I find his incessant and wide vibrato quite horrible. It is also unjustifiable from a historical point of view. There is also little differentiation in his singing. The liner-notes state that Caffarelli's "fiery nature seems to have suited him especially to the show-off aria di bravura (..) and the other 'trumpet arias' here recorded (...)." There is certainly no lack of brilliance and virtuosity in Fagioli's performances of the arias referred to here, but he doesn't have enough power to perform them convincingly. Odo il suono di tromba guerriera from Manna's opera Lucio Papiro dittatore which closes the programme, is an example of that. Caffarelli excelled in trills, roulades and chromatic scale passages. So does Fagioli, but I haven't heard much real expression. He often goes well into the range of a soprano, but there he is not able to colour his voice in the interest of text expression. The orchestral playing doesn't make things really any better as Riccardo Minasi regularly goes for effects which are not justified and don't serve the music very well. And as Fagioli's voice isn't that powerful as I just noticed the balance between him and the orchestra is not always ideal.

The third disc is also devoted to a famous singer of the 18th century. Faustina Bordoni was born in Venice where she also died. During her life she made a great career which brought her in many places across Europe, such as Naples, Bologna, Milan, Munich and London. In the latter she participated in performances of operas by Handel. In 1730 she married the German composer Johann Adolph Hasse who at that same year was appointed Kapellmeister at the court in Dresden. He was one of the leading opera composers of his time, and she often took part in performances of his operas.

The Glossa disc is the first volume in a series devoted to journeys by famous singers of the baroque era. The booklet includes an impressive list of operas in which Bordoni participated, but the programme focuses on her connections to Naples where she performed in the early 1720s and was hailed as the "new siren". We hear arias from operas by Neapolitan composers. The exception is Antonio Maria Bononcini, who never worked in Naples. The aria from his opera Rosiclea which ends the programme is included as Bordoni sang the title role in a performance in Naples in 1721.

She was praised for her technical brilliance. Quantz said of her: "Her execution was articulate and brilliant. She had a fluent tongue for pronouncing words rapidly and distinctly, and a flexible throat for divisions, with so beautiful and quick a shake, that she could put it in motion upon short notice, just when she would. The passages might be smooth, or by leaps, or consist of iterations of the same tone, their execution was equally easy to her ..." That is well reflected in the arias selected for this disc. It was said that she was not so good in strongly pathetic arias and none of the arias here fall into this category. I noticed that things like rage or bravura arias are also almost completely omitted. The roles she sang probably didn't include such arias. Is it possible that they didn't suit her? Whatever, it results in a certain uniformity of the repertoire on this disc, also because the instrumental scoring is generally the same: strings and bc. Only in the aria from Mancini's Giulia the strings are joined by two recorders. Otherwise there are no obbligato parts as on the two previous discs. It was a good idea to insert some instrumental works.

That doesn't mean this disc is boring. The arias are beautiful and Roberta Invernizzi is one of the most famous interpreters of music from the baroque era, in particular Italian music. She gives excellent performances of the arias, and does live up to Bordoni's reputation in the embellishment department. But I wonder whether she sometimes may cross the borders of Bordoni's tessitura, as the latter was a mezzo-soprano with a relatively narrow range. I notice the same feature in her singing as in Franco Fagioli's: a frequent use of vibrato other than as an ornament. I find that regrettable, but in her case it is less of a problem, at least in my experience. That is probably because her voice is nicer and smoother and sounds rather natural, whereas I find Fagioli's singing artificial. Ms Invernizzi's performances are also definitely more expressive. The two arias which are the most dramatic are 'Non ti minaccio sdegno' (Leonardo Vinci, Catone in Utica) and the B part of 'Lasciami un sol momento' (Antonio Maria Bononcini, Rosiclea), and here I find Invernizzi's performance too restrained.

On balance, these discs have to be welcomed especially because they present music from largely virgin territory. That makes it all the more regrettable that Franco Fagioli's recital is a letdown because of performances which are in some respects unstylish and even painful to the ear.

Johan van Veen (© 2014)

Relevant links:

Franco Fagioli
Roberta Invernizzi
Filippo Mineccia
I Turchini
Il pomo d'oro
Stile Galante

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