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Pacini: Il convitato di pietra & Alessandro nell’Indie

Il convitato di pietra (The Stone Guest)

Leonardo Cortellazzi (Don Giovanni), Geraldine Chauvet (Donn’Anna), Zinovia-Maria Zafeiriadou (Zerlina), Ugo Guagliardo (Masetto), Giorgio Trucco (Duca Ottavio), Ugo Guagliardo (Il Commendatore) & Giulio Mastrototaro (Ficcanaso)

Transylvania State Philharmonic Choir & Cluj Südwestdeutsches Kammerorchester Pforzheim/Daniele Ferrari

Naxos 8.660282-83 [for release 4 January 2011]

Giovanni Pacini (1796-1867) wrote some 74 operas during a career lasting 54 composing years, and this is a first recording of the first ever public performance of Il convitato di pietra (The Stone Guest - 1832).

Originally given in private performance, it is far from negligible and this reconstruction from Pacini’s manuscript score and the original performing parts, as well as the partially preserved hand-written libretto for Rossini in Wildbad, 2008, proves thoroughly worthwhile. The Don is a high tenor, which proves very suitable for the character; Leporello becomes Ficcanaso, and Donna Elvira is, sadly, missing - partly conflated with Zerlina.

Pacini’s version is scored for chamber orchestra and draws on arias from his others of his operas which you are unlikely to know. It requires bel canto singing of the highest order for Don Giovanni, Zerlina and Ficcanaso, and these singers at Bad Wildbad's small theatre don't let us down.

Fresh and greatly enjoyable, with atmosphere and excellent singing. It is supplied with an adequate synopsis for easy following, and the full libretto is on the Naxos website - a generous arrangement from a budget label.

Quite a discovery, and one for the music colleges to take up (provided they've got a strong high tenor?); no doubt they've all got Don Giovanni sets stored for future revival?

Warmly recommended; it enhanced our Christmas holiday week.

Peter Grahame Woolf

Pacini Alessandro nell’Indie

Bruce Ford - Alessandro
Jennifer Larmore - Poro
Laura Claycomb - Cleofide
Mark Wilde - Gandarte
Dean Robinson - Timagene

London Philharmonic Orchestra, Geoffrey Mitchell Choir/David Parry

OPERA RARA ORC35 [3CDs; Opera Rara’s first SACD Hybrid recording]

Here is the latest of Opera Rara's world premiere recordings of operatic rarities, arriving a little later than anticipated but worth waiting for.

Those who aren't in the know have a rare treat to look forward to. This is a well endowed organisation - see a rehearsal photo taken in their music Library - and every care is taken at all stages.

It is a conventional story but a vehicle for tremendously virtuosic bel canto and coloratura singing, and Opera Rara brings together a strong cast of specialists. These operas are tricky and costly to stage convincingly and this series is a good alternative.

A particular delight always is the lavish Opera Rara booklet, some 150 pages, all in large print and in English, including Italian texts and English translations. There is a genrous selection of full page colour photos, and listening with this information and all the words at the ready is really as enjoyable as many a DVD.

Peter Grahame Woolf

Concert Performance at The London Coliseum 19 November 2006 and Opera Rara recording session

As their name implies, Opera Rara specialises in rescuing operas which have fallen by the performing wayside and are threatened with oblivion. The composer list in their CD catalogue may read like an operatic Who's No Longer Who, but it does offer enthusiasts the chance to hear and re-evaluate their work. From time to time Opera Rara draw back the curtains a little further and welcomes one of these pieces back onto stage in a concert performance.

In a pre-performance interview with Paul Reeve, Roger Parker spoke of the world of Italian opera in the 19th century, a scene dominated first by Rossini, followed by Bellini and Donizetti and finally Verdi. Pacini complained in his memoirs that it was impossible for a composer to gain a foothold unless they wrote in similar a style, which in 1824 meant in that of Rossini. Nonetheless he enjoyed a pretty fair measure of success, with an output of more than 80 operas.

Alessandro nell'Indie was an important work for Pacini marking a turning point in his career. It was the first commission he received from the influential Teatro S. Carlo in Naples – the leading house of the time – and he lavished special care on it's preparation. He chose a libretto designed to appeal to a conservative thinking audience and which gave ample opportunity for spectacle. The roles of Alessandro (Alexander the Great), the Indian King Poro and Queen Cleofide were written for three specific singers, at the top of the bel canto league, and the complete opera proved as much a showpiece of this style as ever.

The similarities to Rossini were readily apparent, but there were also discernible differences. The two duets in Act 1, between Cleofide and Poro and Cleofide and Alessandro, carry considerable emotional depth, and I was particularly struck by some passages of orchestration in Act II – Cleofide accompanied by violas and cello, and later Alessandro and the chorus singing with just the harp, then with the horns and woodwind joining in.

The opera opens in the palace of Cleofide, and Laura Claycomb [pictured], in a glittering cerulean blue gown, set the scene in regal style, singing with equally sparkling coloratura.

Jennifer Larmore (one of Opera Rara's stalwarts, pictured below) was appropriately more subdued as the embattled Poro, but absolutely firm voiced in this demanding role. Bruce Ford is a long time specialist in this style and took the title role with great charm and dignity – Alessandro not only wins all the battles but also takes the moral high ground, showing generous mercy to his captives. Mark Wilde presented a finely judged cameo in his minor role.

The 50-strong chorus play a considerable part in the proceedings, but failed to carry their full weight from the back of the stage. The orchestra was splendid and David Parry worked like a demon to pull the whole work into splendid shape.

It had been a pleasure earlier in the week to attend an Opera Rara recording session at the Henry Wood Hall, a converted church in south east London near The Elephant. That is a sensible arrangement, giving the live audience at the Colisuem the benefit of week-long unrushed rehearsals. The LPO took over the floor space and we watched and listened from the Gallery.

David Parry controlled the proceedings calmly and efficiently, rehearsing passages quite briefly before proceeding to the first of several 'takes' of each section. The singers were ranged behind the orchestra and were supported by advisers, probably language and singing experts who did not allow any details to pass unnoticed. Repetition made us familiar with several sections of the opera.

The acoustic at Henry Wood Hall was fantastic, clear and full toned. Laura Claycomb and Jennifer Larmore (one of Opera Rara's stalwarts) dominated the session in accompanied recitative with orchestra, duet and arias. Claycomb had appeared first as a slight figure in mini-skirt and a neat cap, which she later discarded to allow her magnificent auburn hair to flow freely. It will be fascinating to compare the recorded sound (I caught a snatch of it from the listening room on the way out, and it sounded great) with the final results on the CDs [Opera Rara ORC35] due to be released next autumn.

Serena Fenwick and Peter Grahame Woolf