Mercadante Orazi e Curiazi Opera Rara

Saverio Mercadante (1795-1870)
Orazi e Curiazi
Il Vecchio Orazio; Alastair Miles (bass); Orazio: Anthony Michaels-Moore (baritone); Camilla: Nelly Miricioiu (soprano); Sabina: Jennifer Rhys-Davies (soprano); Curiazio: Marcus Jerome (tenor); High Priest: Paul Nilon (tenor)
Geoffrey Mitchell Choir
Philharmonia Orchestra/David Parry
rec. 1993, All Saints, Tooting, London
Italian libretto & English translation
Opera Rara ORC12 [3 CDs: 177]

Apart from a few brief, tangential mentions in reviews of other Mercadante operas and Opera Rara anthologies, this substantial recording, first released nearly twenty years ago on 1 January 2005, has not featured on MusicWeb. It might not be a masterpiece but with a workable libretto by Donizetti and Verdi collaborator Salvadore Cammarano, some rollicking good tunes – not always Mercadante’s forte – and a great cast, it is perhaps the best of his works – and it is still available.

What Mercadante lacks in melodic invention he makes up for with dramatic impact; he is never one to eschew the grand gesture and brass and timpani are called upon to work upon overtime, as per his emphatic and grandiose overture. There is some formulaic writing; you will hear lots of gestures similar to those found in early Verdi, with a fair bit of “rum-ti-tum” but the vocals are also often wild and adventurous and the best of the numbers are both memorable and enjoyable; I especially enjoy the great Act II ensemble oath scene “Non di trombe”, which is a real tub-thumper of a march, and Camilla’s several set-piece arias. The libretto – a simplification of Corneille’s Horace – affords plenty of scope for characterisation and conflict; the extended ensemble, “Ai! Dove un Olimpo”, towards the end of Act I is especially impressive and absorbing and the lively, heroic and varied duet for Jerome and Michaels-Moore opening Act II goes very well. In many ways, that middle act contains the best of the music; Mercadante is great at spectacle and large-scale crowd scenes.

The sound is good but sometimes “churchy” and over-resonant, as a result of the recording location and voices can seem too recessed but that is a passing concern.

The great Anglo-Romanian soprano Nelly Miricioiu was aways under-recorded so this is an especially welcome record of her manifold talents in good studio sound as opposed to the live or “private” recordings upon which her fans mostly rely. She was invariably – and rightly – compared with Callas for her vocal style and emotional commitment and she evinces fewer of Callas’ supposed “faults” in her singing. She captivates the listener from her first utterances: her voice is large, pure, flexible and highly expressive. Her stamina and amplitude are astonishing. Her vocalism in the prayer scene at the end of Act II – “La mia prece” – including two, floated, ppp top Cs, is mesmerising.

 Texan tenor Marcus Jerome (who later performed under the surnames Haddock and Jerome-Haddock) has a sweet but plangent and penetrating tenor of some heft and beauty; he had an important career in Europe in the late 80s and the 90s, then returned to the USA; his career was unfortunately curtailed by illness when he was in his early fifties but this is a fine testimony to his talents. His lament opening Act III is a fine piece of singing. Sonorous bass Alastair Miles has since had a long and successful career and makes a telling contribution, especially in his brace of arias “Oh! se morendo” and the amusingly incongruous, oompah-rhythm “Piango”. Baritone Anthony Michaels-Moore specialises in Italian roles although I have always found him to sound rather polite and English in timbre and manner; still, he sings well with good legato. Here, he is another of those deranged and unpleasant baritones who stabs his sister for reasons of honour (c.f. Don Carlo in La forza del destino). David Parry has long been a leading conductor of opera and directs an energised and fluid account here, performed by a top-class choir and orchestra.

Translator Julian Budden contributes a highly informative and succinct note and we hear a gentler, anti-war alternative aria for Camilla concluding Act II as an appendix.

Ralph Moore

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