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Support us financially by purchasing this disc from
Bel Canto Bully - The musical legacy of the legendary opera impresario Domenico Barbaja
Gioachino ROSSINI (1792 - 1868)
La gazzetta (1816):
1. Sinfonia [7:32]
Otello (1816):
2. Act II: Che ascolto? ahimè che dici? [6:54]
3. Act III: Assisa a’ piè d’un salice [5:27]
Mosè in Egitto (1819) Naples version):
4. Act IV: Dal tuo stellato soglio [4:52]
La donna del lago (1819):
5. Act II: Oh fiamma soave [8:21]
6. Act II: Tanti affetti in tal momento [4:12]
Maometto II (1820)
7. Act II: Non temer: d’un basso affetto [7:48]
Carl Maria von WEBER (1786 - 1826)
Euryanthe (1823):
8. Overture [8:43]
Vincenzo BELLINI (1801 - 1835)
Il pirata (1827):
9. Act I: Nel furor delle tempeste [2:54]
10. Act I: Per te di vane lagrime [2:03]
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797 - 1848)
Roberto Devereux (1837):
11. Act III: Vivi, ingrato, a lei d’accanto [4:55]
12. Act III: Quel sangue versato al cielo s’innaiza [6:20]
Saverio MERCADANTE (1795 - 1870)
Elena da Feitre (1839):
13. Act I: Ah! si del tenero amor mio [5:27]
Filippo Adami (tenor) (2); Jessica Pratt (soprano) (3); Lorenzo Regazzo (bass) (4); Maxim Mironov (tenor) (5); Sonia Ganassi (mezzo) (6); Ewa Podles (mezzo) (7); Marcello Giordani (tenor) (9, 10); Dimitra Theodossiou (soprano) (11, 12); Monica Colonna (soprano) (13); others; various choruses, orchestras and conductors
rec. various locations, 1988 - 2008
NAXOS 8.578237 [75:19]

Domenico Barbaja (1777 - 1841) was the most influential opera impresario of the 19th century. He was also, to quote the liner notes, ‘a casino mogul, an illiterate loudmouth and a cantankerous bully’. First and foremost he was a businessman and he saw the financial potential in opera. Though he promoted composers and singers, who without him might never have made a career, it was obviously not with artistic results in mind, but money. However, he launched some of the great composers of the early 19th century and this disc introduces us to excerpts from some of their works, culled from complete recordings in the Naxos catalogue and in a couple of cases from recital discs. The liner-notes are by Philip Eisenbeiss, who is also the author of Bel Canto Bully: The life and times of the legendary opera impresario Domenico Barbaja, which was published by Haus Publishing, London, in 2013.
The excerpts on this disc are a bit variable when it comes to the execution but generally the selections give a fairly good picture of the composers Barbaja promoted. The overture from La gazzetta which opens the disc is no doubt the best known number from this opera, primarily because Rossini re-used it for La Cenerentola a year later. The composer was only 24 but had already seventeen operas behind him, the most recent being Il barbiere di Siviglia, which had been premiered in Rome in February 1816 and La gazzetta went over the stage in Naples in September the same year. He found time to write a third opera that same year, Otello, premiered in December. The source for the libretto is Shakespeare’s tragedy but it differs quite a lot from the original - and also from Verdi’s masterpiece from 1887. Rodrigo, who is a secondary character chez Verdi is in the Rossini opera a front-runner and is allotted some of the most demanding music in the work. His act II aria, which is heard on this disc, amply demonstrates this. Filippo Adami negotiates the coloratura more than acceptably and he sings with a great deal of nuance but his tone is hard and un-ingratiating. Desdemona’s Willow Song is probably the best known number in the opera, delicate with the opening harp solo and Jessica Pratt sings it beautifully.
A couple of years later Mosè in Egitto was first seen, also in Naples. The Biblical theme and the layout of the work make it half-oratorio. It ends with the parting of the Red Sea and the drowning of the Egyptian soldiers, but the machinery of the theatre was so clumsy that the scene ‘elicited howls of derision’ from the audience. It was still a success and for the next season Rossini revised it a little and added the famous prayer, which is heard on this disc (tr. 4). Lorenzo Regazzo is a noble Mosè and the other soloists are also good, but it is the chorus that is the main protagonist here and they sing very well.
La donna del lago was the first Italian opera based on Walter Scott, and it was influential on the development of the romantic opera, so much so that within twenty years there were 25 other Scott operas, the most famous, Lucia di Lammermoor. La donna was a great success and was played all over Europe and also in South-America for the next forty years. Uberto’s long second act aria Oh fiamma soave (tr. 5) opens with a beautiful horn solo before the tenor makes his entrance. He is Maxim Mironov and he is an excellent bel canto singer: light, effortless and with fluent coloratura. He was only 25 when the complete set, from which the aria is culled, was recorded. Tanti affetti, Elena’s aria, is the sole number that is widely known from this opera and it is well sung by Sonia Ganassi, whose Rosina in the Naxos recording of Il barbiere di Siviglia has acquired classic status.
Maometto II didn’t please the Naples audiences and Rossini then revised it to please Venice and Paris. Calbo’s aria Non temer is one of the best things in the work and as sung here it stands out as possibly even better than it is. This aria is from a studio recital with Rossini arias from the mid-1990s with the remarkable Polish mezzo Ewa Podles. Hers is a voice with exceptional beauty paired with stunning technique and deeply emotional expression. There are many good things on this disc but this track surpasses everything else. The whole recital is one of the best Rossini collections ever and is well worth seeking out. A glorious end to the Rossini section of this disc.
Carl Maria von Weber’s Euryanthe is brimful with marvellous music but the clumsy libretto has made it a rare guest in the opera houses. The overture, on the other hand, has become a popular opening number in orchestral concerts. No wonder - it is a masterpiece with supreme contrapuntal writing.
Bellini’s Il pirata was his third opera and his first for Teatro alla Scala. Barbajo arranged for him to have Felice Romani as librettist and Giovanni Battista Rubini, the leading tenor of the day, as Gualtiero. Rubini had a wide-ranging voice that effortlessly reached d and even f above the high c. This makes it difficult to find singers for the Rubini roles today. Marcello Giordani has the range for the aria (tr. 9-10) but he sounds uncomfortable.
Roberto Devereux was the third of the three Donizetti operas portraying British queens, the two earlier being Anna Bolena (1830) and Maria Stuarda (1835). Roberto Devereux was first staged at the San Carlo, Naples in 1837 and was regarded as on a par with Lucia di Lammermoor. Technically demanding the arias from act III have had few better interpreters in latter years than the Greek soprano Dimitra Theodossiou. She is especially impressive considering that this is a live recording and we have reached the end of a very strenuous opera. If nothing else she shows her mastery in floating a high pianissimo.
Saverio Mercadante is the least known of the composers here and much of what he wrote is today forgotten. He wrote much: almost sixty operas to begin with - among them an Amleto (1822) - and possibly more instrumental works than any of his contemporaries. Many of his operas were performed throughout the 19th century and some received far more performances than those of Verdi’s early productions. Elena da Feltre which was his 43rd, was premiered in January 1839 - Verdi debuted with Oberto in November the same year - and was regarded as advanced for its time. The aria from the first act begins with a long beautiful flute solo, which reminds me that Mercadante wrote a number of concertos for flute and string orchestra. The aria is well shaped and Monica Colonna sings it well.
This is quite an interesting concept for a compilation disc and there are enough good things here to make it a good buy.
Göran Forsling