Notes and Editorial Reviews
The sheer range of Ercole Amante's musical delights is extraordinary, with splendid laments, compellingly dramatic arias, and duets that recall the glorious final scene of Monteverdi's Poppea.
When Ercole amante was first performed at Paris in 1662 it lasted six hours with Lully's ballet music inserted between the acts. Reports suggest that Lully's music was received with rapturous enthusiasm but Cavalli's with considerable reserve; the verdict of history is that Lully's music is all but worthless whereas Cavalli's opera is one of his richest and most resourceful masterpieces. Buti's libretto is a complicated affair with many characters and a whole range of intrigue: since it is in Italian the original French audience
might well have been confused by the whole proceedings and felt happier with the more explicit story line of the ballet; and since the performance when it happened was a full two years later than planned (held up by Cardinal Mazarin's death among other things) it is easy to see that the gathering expectations led to some disappointment when the final result seemed so enormous and pretentious.
Modern revivals of Cavalli have perhaps tended to favour the slightly simpler and cheaper works. The very size of the cast list suggests one reason why Ercole amante has been avoided. And it is one of the major benefits of today's record market that a work like this can be made commercial. Ercole amante is a full ten years later than any of Cavalli's previously recorded operas, and it is correspondingly richer in its melodic and harmonic invention. The sheer range of its musical delights is extraordinary, with elaborate choral work, splendid laments, duets that recall the glorious final scene of Monteverdi's Poppea (now considered by some to be Cavalli's work), and arias of a compellingly dramatic structure.
In all this it is considerably aided by Michel Corboz who directs the performance with a true insight into Cavalli's musical and dramatic intentions. The orchestra includes many of Britain's finest baroque players: the sound is rich, as it should be in a work that was commissioned for the Sun King's wedding celebrations; the playing is invariably springy, fresh and beautifully controlled. There is some material added to the score, but nothing that seems inappropriate.
Some of the singing is a little Glyndebournish, with traces of the intonation that implies. But most of the important roles are splendidly realized. The Danish bass Ulrik Cold is perhaps ideal as Ercole: a full round voice with uncanny precision on the low notes and a fine feeling for the language and the drama inherent in Cavalli's lines. Particular successes for which I shall return to this set are Patricia Miller's Dejanira (particularly in the second act) and Agnes de Crouzat's unforgettable charm as the Page. Again though, I must repeat that everything stands on the sympathetic and dramatically conceived conducting of Michel Corboz.
-- Gramophone [10/1980]
reviewing the original LP release
Works on This Recording
Ercole amante by Pier Francesco Cavalli
Felicity Palmer (Soprano),
Michel Corboz (Baritone),
Keith Lewis (Tenor),
Ulrik Cold (Bass),
Riccardo Cassinelli (Tenor),
Colette Alliot-Lugaz (Soprano),
Michael Goldthorpe (Tenor),
Agnes de Crousaz (Soprano),
John Tomlinson (Bass),
Eiddwen Harrhy (Soprano),
Marilyn Hill Smith (Soprano),
Malcolm King (Bass),
Patricia Miller (Mezzo Soprano),
Yvonne Minton (Mezzo Soprano),
Rosemary Hardy (Soprano),
Kerry Elizabeth Brown (Alto),
Andrew King (Tenor),
Ann Mackay (Soprano),
Judith Rees (Soprano)
English Bach Festival Choir,
English Bach Festival Baroque Orchestra
Written: 1662; Italy
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