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Mercadante Emma d'Anitochia
Emma - Nelly Miricioiu, Corrado - Roberto Servile, Ruggiero - Bruce Ford, Adelia - Maria Costanza Nocentini, Aladino - Colin Lee, Odetta - Rebecca von Lipinski.
Geoffrey Mitchell Choir, London Philharmonic Orchestra/David Parry

Opera Rara ORC26 3CDs [163 mins]

Here is a high romantic opera to a libretto by Felice Romani, the librettist of Bellini's Norma, which deals with heightened emotion, passion and anguish, through memorable melody and striking orchestration. Headed by Nelly Miricioiu and Bruce Ford is a cast of Opera Rara stalwarts in fine voice, for roles which demand refinement and endurance; benefiting no doubt from the advantages of studio recording at Henry Wood Hall, London, October 2003.

It is a roller-coaster from 1834 composed under the spell of Rossini. Ruggiero two-times his bride with an earlier lover, which cannot be exonerated in those times, though the bride's father does offer clemency (exile) instead of revenge (death). So Nelly Miicioiu has to take poison after some really spectacular singing, and the opera is certainly worth collecting for her contribution.

Opera Rara studio recordings sets have the particular distinction of excellent preparation (including concert performance) and presentation, the lavishly illustrated 156 page book having a complete libretto in generous sized print and with a parallel English translation. During the longeurs (yes, there are some) I found myself consulting occasionally the introductory essays which encompass all you could want to know of the history, including a core dozen pages of analysis of structure and the music by Jeremy Commons, who does not gloss over criticism, e.g. of music for chorus which is sometimes incongruously jolly for tense situations. But this is a composer whose originality and dramatic flair grows on you, and I look forward to hearing - and hopefully seeing - more Mercadante.

I found listening to these CDs more focussed and less distracting than seeing some more routine productions on DVD. Listen to Nelly Miricioiu singing 'In quest'ora fatale e temuta' on the Opera Rara website and you will, at the least, be intrigued to explore further and perhaps go to the Royal Festival Hall to hear Donizetti's Pia de' Tolomei, another tale of jealous love, wrong choices, intrigue and ultimately tragic death, preceded by discussions with Opera Rara Artistic Director, Patric Schmid and Michael Quinn, Deputy Editor of Gramophone (October 23).


© Peter Grahame Woolf