viernes, 22 de diciembre de 2006
It was the late and very much lamented Patric Schmid, Opera Rara’s co-founder and, until his premature death a year ago, artistic director, who chose Pacini’s Alessandro nell’Indie for the company’s annual performance and recording of a little-known nineteenth-century opera. His immense knowledge of this repertory was unparalleled, and it allowed him to take his pick from literally hundreds of titles those which he considered most worthy of being heard today. Based on this performance, I can confidently say that he was right.
Alessandro nell’Indie was the first opera that Pacini composed for Naples’ Teatro San Carlo, where it was premiered in 1824. After a contrasted first night, the favour of the King of Naples, Ferdinand I, was visibly manifested at the second performance and propelled the work toward significant success.
Was the King a fan of Pacini, then? He may have been, but he was certainly a fan of Metastasio. Metastasio’s libretti had been hugely popular in the eighteenth century and were set by dozens of composers, but by the beginning of the next century they had fallen almost completely out of fashion. A few of them reappeared in the 1820s in a few Italian cities, however, set by such composers as Meyerbeer, Mercadante, Mayr and Pacini.
Why was this the case? In short, the post-Napoleonic Restoration had suffered a serious blow in 1820-21, when street demonstrations against oppressive political regimes, and in some cases attempts at overthrowing them, broke out in several Italian cities, including Turin, Modena and Naples. It was precisely these cities that saw the reappearance of Metastasio’s texts the stages of opera houses during the following years on. These texts, many of them written when Metastasio was Imperial court poet in Vienna, glorified the enlightened absolutism of the ruling monarch, whose boundless love for his subjects and selfless clemency ensure happiness for all. Opera lovers who are familiar with Mozart’s La clemenza di Tito would have recognized a very similar ideology at work in Alessandro nell’Indie. Clearly, in the minds of those in power, a steady diet of Metastasio may have helped convince audiences that the political status quo was the best possible solution.
These libretti were originally structured as a succession of recitatives and arias (between ca. 20 and 30), but Italian opera had changed immensely by the 1820s. Arias had become much longer, and duets, ensembles and finales were also required. The task of refashioning Metastasio’s Alessandro was therefore not an easy one. But whoever took it did a very good job. While the plot was not altered in any significant way, the structure is very similar to that of any other opera of the time written on a new libretto. In other words, if I had not known that the original libretto was almost one hundred years old, I would have not guessed it. The three main characters, Alessandro, Poro and Cleofide, have an aria in each act; the rest is taken up by two duets, Cleofide-Poro and Cleofide-Alessandro, one trio that then evolves into a quartet, and one quintet right before Poro’s rondò finale, plus of course an introduzione for each act and a central finale.
Pacini’s music sounds very much like Rossini’s, but he makes significant attempts to link the numbers together by avoiding clear-cut cadences at the end, and to make the themes from static movements, especially cabalettas, as memorable and individualized as possible -Pacini wasn’t called “il maestro delle cabalette” for nothing. The most noticeable characteristic is the vocal writing, however, which is florid to a fault, and really very difficult. This is not surprising if one remembers that the first interpreters were famous Rossinian singers: Andrea Nozzari (the first ‘Otello’, for example), Adelaide Tosi and Caterina Lipparini.
Ford, Claycomb and Larmore acquitted themselves tremendously well. Ford’s voice took a while to settle, but in the second act he was on top form, completely at ease in both coloratura and canto spianato. This singer’s most remarkable virtue, above and beyond the technical accomplishments, remains the dramatically intense way in which he shapes the text, crystal-clear diction coupled with an infallible sense of colour and emphasis. 'Cleofide' is a very long sing, and Claycomb’s stamina were tested to the limit, but she is a very musical interpreter and possesses an excellent coloratura. She only needs to support the voice a little better -breathing was shallow on occasion- and roles such as 'Cleofide' will constitute no problem for her. I must admit that I don’t find Larmore’s timbre particularly seductive, and her coloratura can sound a little mechanical at times. But her technique is perfect, the voice flexible and well-supported, and her commitment to whatever she sings a model to be admired and praised. It was also a joy to hear these singers ornament with an acute sense of style and affect.
I would guess that they received considerable help from David Parry, who clearly knows this kind of music inside out and obviously believes passionately in it. Tempi and sonorities were always perfectly judged, and the many instrumental details that grace Pacini’s score emerged beautifully. (He was a little too fond of trombones, though.) The Geoffrey Mitchell Choir was placed at the very back of the stage and sounded underpowered at times, although always accurate. The London Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO) played with great zest and intensity: it is a privilege to hear this music from such an excellent ensemble, especially one that knows the difference between a symphonic work and an opera (each summer the LPO moves to Glyndebourne for the Opera Festival there). All in all, another excellent offering from Opera Rara, and a very worthy tribute to the memory of Patric Schmid, who must have had a great time, wherever he is.