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Carnicer: Elena E Costantino / Lopez Cobos, Rosique

Carnicer / Rosique / Mcpherson / Pirgu / Regazzo
Release Date: 07/28/2009 
Label:  Dynamic   Catalog #: 619/1-2  
Composer:  Ramón Carnicer
Performer:  Mariola CantareroSaimir PirguRuth RosiqueEduardo Santamaria,   ... 
Conductor:  Jesús Lopez-Cobos
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Madrid Symphony OrchestraMadrid Symphony Chorus
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

CARNICER Elena e Constantino Jesús López-Cobos, cond; Ruth Rosique ( Elena/Riccardo ); Robert McPherson ( Costantino ); Saimir Pirgu ( Edmondo ); Lorenzo Regazzo ( Carlo ); Mariola Cantarero ( Anna ); Madrid SO & Ch DYNAMIC 619 (2 CDs: Read more 151:00 Text and Translation) Live: Madrid 3/12–14/2005

For various reasons, not the least of which was royal patronage, Italian opera was the dominant theatrical music in Spain during the first third of the 19th century. These were generally the kinds of operas to which we assign the term bel canto , whose dominant figures have turned out to be Bellini, Donizetti, and Rossini. While they lived, there were dozens of contemporaries turning out formulaic operas composed in the style of the time or, perhaps, earlier. One of them was the Spaniard, Ramón Carnicer, who wrote several, including his 1821 opera, Elena e Costantino . It follows the rules of the game, which included the dominant cavatina/cabaletta form for most arias. Operas of this period are similar to Westerns or Fred and Ginger movies—they mostly follow their own rules faithfully. No matter how many misunderstandings cropped up, Astaire and Rodgers always managed to get together at the end (and danced divinely even when they were looking daggers at each other) and Autry, Rogers, Wayne, Boyd (Hopalong Cassidy), and the rest of them always got their man (and, despite legend, usually the girl). There’s a kind of comfort in this predictability (“God’s in his heaven. All’s right with the world!”) but its very strength can also be its weakness. Unless the formula is manipulated by a superior talent, predictability becomes boring rather than comforting. Not being distracted by the music, as you might be by Bellini, Donizetti, or Rossini, you become all too aware of the formulas. Even the masters of the idiom occasionally fell victim to this, and so does Ramón Carnicer. If staged with some flair and sung by this good a cast, I think Elena e Costantino could be revived once in a while, but I also think that the 90-minute first act could be divided and the 60-minute second act goes on a bit, considering how little actually happens.

Here’s the basic plot: Costantino, the Prince of Arles, is wrongly accused of murdering his father for the throne and has to flee for his life, along with his wife, Elena, and his young son. She disguises herself as a man and is sheltered by the wealthy peasant, Carlo, who has adopted her son, not knowing it is hers. The throne is now held by Edmondo, the son of the man who actually killed Costantino’s father. In a slight twist of the usual plot, Edmondo is not a bad guy and eventually saves Costantino and his family after their capture and turns the throne over to its rightful owner.

Much of the music has a placid graciousness and symmetry, though agitation is sometimes present, often in the form of churning Rossini-like crescendos. Nevertheless, I found the general impression to be one of pleasant blandness. Take the opening chorus of act II. Listening to it, one might infer that the people are singing something to the effect of “What a beautiful day it is. Lovers are embracing. Children are happily playing. We are honored by the Prince’s visit to our city. It’s good to be alive.” What the text actually says, at least in translation, is, “May the avenging justice of heaven descend and brandish today its terrible sword. Human wickedness never plunged to such depths; regrettably, the unworthy man was tolerated by heaven.”

The performers do lots of ornamentation, and I mean lots —and most of it is reasonably accurate (i.e., they usually seem to be hitting the notes they were aiming for) and seems appropriate. How much of it was their own creation, I don’t know. Once you get used to the idea that, say, Robert McPherson and Saimir Pirgu, the two tenors, are not Juan Diego Flórez, one can respect and enjoy their singing. In the minor role of Anna, the peasant Carlo’s daughter, Mariola Cantarero shows that she has a high E. Really, nobody lets the side down; the orchestra and chorus are of high quality, and López-Cobos is certainly a solid conductor, though he could have taken a few numbers just a bit slower to help his singers execute their razzle-dazzle. Excellent sound. No attempt at “staging,” but who cares? Dynamic and these performers have given a defunct opera a shot at resuscitation. As usual, it’s up to the public to make the decision.

FANFARE: James Miller
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Works on This Recording

Elena e Costantino by Ramón Carnicer
Performer:  Mariola Cantarero (Mezzo Soprano), Saimir Pirgu (Tenor), Ruth Rosique (Soprano),
Eduardo Santamaria (Tenor), Robert McPherson (Tenor), Lorenzo Regazzo (Bass)
Conductor:  Jesús Lopez-Cobos
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Madrid Symphony Orchestra,  Madrid Symphony Chorus
Period: Romantic 
Written: by 1821 

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