Home | Reviews | Articles | Festivals | Competitions | Other | Contact Us

Pacini Alessandro nell'Indie

Concert Performance at The London Coliseum 19 November 2006

and Opera Rara recording session


London Philharmonic Orchestra & Geoffrey Mitchell Choir

conducted by David Parry


Alessandro Bruce Ford

Poro Jennifer Larmore

Cleofide Laura Claycomb

Gandarte Mark Wilde

Timagene Dean Robinson


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 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