Admirers of Gluck the reformer may be surprised by this thoroughly Baroque, extremely florid opera composed by him in 1765 (three years after Orfeo ed Euridice changed the landscape of opera forever). La corona, Gluck?s setting of Metastasio?s one-act azione teatrale (the master librettist?s own term for a serenata with a plot), was commissioned by Queen Maria Theresa as a name-day gift for the emperor. Though Read more style="font-style:italic">Orfeo ed Euridice is also styled an azione teatrale, the two operas could hardly be more different. Considering that La corona contains as treacherously difficult a collection of florid arias as can be found in any score of the period, it?s hard to credit that it was created specifically to be sung by the three royal princesses; even the most adept prime donne of the period would have struggled to master its score. Due to the sudden death of the emperor, La corona was shelved and never performed in Gluck?s lifetime. Atypically for a score of this quality and complexity, the composer mined relatively little of it for future works, with a notable exception in his transformation of the second part of the overture into the love duet in Paride ed Elena.
Producer John Ostendorf and Albany deserve grateful praise for releasing this obscure work, which has previously appeared on records only in an abbreviated performance on the Orfeo label. La corona is a beautiful opera and, though this music would prove a challenge for any singer, Albany?s cast, headed by the plangent-voiced Julianne Baird, acquit themselves well, even if, not surprisingly, they occasionally wrestle with the hardest passages. High points include the duet ?Deh, l?accetta, ah giunga alfine? sung with lovely tone by Danielle Munsell Howard as Meleagro and Julianne Baird as Atalanta. Ms. Howard also triumphs in the fabulous aria with clarinet obbligato, ?Fe? germogliare il fato.? If La corona were better known, this aria would be celebrated. It is surprising that Gluck didn?t reuse it, but it is conceivable that there wasn?t a singer capable of managing the fiorature and, in any case, by the time he hit France, he had moved off into other directions.
Mary Ellen Callahan is a lovely Climene and Patrice Djerjian a spirited Asteria. The conducting by Rudolf Palmer is expert. The Queen?s Chamber Band plays with virtuosity, as does Elaine Comparone in the harpsichord recitatives. She is joined by violinists Robert Zubrycki and Lori Miller and cellist Peter Seidenberg in the best renderings I?ve heard of Gluck?s Sonatas Nos. 1 and 2, a wonderful bonus that concludes this warmly recommended recording.