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Saverio MERCADANTE (1795-1870)
I due Figaro (1826-9)
Susanna - Eleanore Buratto (soprano)
Figaro - Mario Cassi (baritone)
Cherubino - Annalisa Stroppa (mezzo)
Count Amaviva - Antonio Poli (tenor)
Countess - Asude Karayavuz (soprano)
Inez - Rosa Feola (soprano)
Plagio - Omar Montanari (baritone)
Tombio - Anicio Giustiniani (tenor)
Kätchen - Sophie Boulanger (soprano)
Philharmonia Choir Vienna
Luigi Cherubini Youth Orchestra/Riccardo Muti
rec. 24-26 June 2011, Teatro Alighieri, Ravenna
DUCALE DUC045-47 [3 CDs: 53:42 + 38:14 + 74:28]

Initially Mercadante was a Rossini disciple, but in due course he played an important part in the transition to a new style. In this sense we can understand why Verdi so honoured him.
 
I due Figaro (1829) is a relatively early work in Mercadante’s career, composed during the years up to 1829 when he was living in Spain and Portugal. His librettist Felice Romani was - or would become - a leading figure in Italian opera, working regularly with Vincenzo Bellini for example. Here Romani provides his own extension of the Beaumarchais Marriage of Figaro story, and witty and well-paced it is too, even if it had been originally written for another opera, a version by Michele Carafa performed at La Scala in 1820. It needs to be said, however, that Beaumarchais did complete the trilogy himself, writing La mère coupable to follow Figaro and The Barber of Seville. Darius Milhaud made an opera of it in the 1960s.
 
In Mercadante’s opera, which is recorded here for the first time, the Count and Countess have a daughter called Inez, who is in love with Cherubino, now an army officer. Relations between Susanna and Figaro have become difficult, and the latter is found trying to arrange a marriage between Inez and one Don Alvaro, in order to gain access to her dowry. The Count goes along with this but Cherubino has his own counter-plan, which involves impersonating a new servant who is also called Figaro, hence the opera’s title. Out of these various complexities the plot is resolved in Cherubino’s favour.
 
Although Mercadante was based at Madrid when he composed the opera, it was not performed immediately as had been intended, and had to wait until 1835 for its premiere. After that it disappeared from view until Riccardo Muti performed it at Salzburg in June 2011, followed a fortnight later by the performances at Ravenna from which this recording was made.
 
With great skill Mercadante imbues his score with a Spanish flavour, not least in the brilliant ‘Sinfonia caracteristica espagnola’ that serves as overture. This sets the tone for the whole, and Riccardo Muti, evidently the driving force behind the project, secures a bubbling vivacity throughout, though also with a sensitive restraint as and when required.
 
The supporting booklet is well produced and the production standards are quite sumptuous, including a full libretto with translation. On the debit side, there are insufficient cue-points relating to the structure of the music and drama, so that finding ones way through the piece becomes that much more difficult.
 
The cast acquit themselves well and they also work effectively as a team. In keeping with the nature of the plot, there is a liveliness about the act-finales which adds another dimension; that to the first act is particularly effective. The Luigi Cherubini Youth Orchestra plays brilliantly and the Viennese chorus also enter into just the right spirit as they assume the personae of villagers and rural labourers. Eleonora Buratto as Susanna brings a seductive charm to the role and meets its technical challenges too, while as Cherubino Annalisa Stroppa is a rich-voiced mezzo-soprano, very distinctive in personality. Both the Count of Mario Cassi and the Countess of Asude Karayavuz are capable performances. The former is a tenor in this opera, unlike Mozart’s choice of baritone for the role.
 
Mercadante is a more important composer of opera than his position in today’s repertory might suggest. While this is not one of his more substantial compositions it is beautifully paced and abounds in wit and charm. With the combination of good recorded sound and such a spirited performance, this Ducale issue can be recommended to those wishing to hear this lively opera by a hugely talented master of the genre.
 
Terry Barfoot 

See also reivew by Simon Thompson