Notes and Editorial Reviews
Saverio Mercadante (1795-1870) is not an everyday name anymore, but in the 1820s and '30s he was as well-known as Bellini, Rossini, and Donizetti. After working in Vienna, Madrid, Lisbon, and Cadiz, he took Italy by storm in 1831 and was invited by Rossini to come to Paris in 1836 and compose an opera for the greatest singers in the world--Grisi, Riubini, Tamburini, and Lablache. He learned from what he heard, and his style changed from simply bel canto to encompassing the orchestral ideas of Halevy and Meyerbeer, and when he returned to Italy in 1837 his Il Giuramento was a great success. Sadly, Pacini's operas proved more exciting than his, and then along came Verdi, and there went Mercadante's reputation.
pleasure to be found in his operas, however, and this work, of which Opera Rara offers us almost an hour and 20 minutes, is good entertainment. The plot has nothing to do with Donizetti's opera of the same name; indeed, it is concerned with Mary Stuart's exploits while she was in power, with her dastardly husband, Henry Darnley, renamed Olfredo and fictionalized into a hero who stops Scottish nobles from harming the Queen. (Though we get only excerpts, the entire libretto is included.) The vocal writing is excellent, and we get individual arias for Maria (soprano Judith Howarth), Carlo (a trouser role, mezzo Manuela Custer), and Olfredo (another trouser role, mezzo Jennifer Larmore); we also hear a Rossini-like quintet, a stunning finale to the first act, and a couple of duets.
Maria's vocal line is outrageous, with a few exposed high-Es followed by equally front-and-center notes more than two octaves below and requiring a big chest voice, and Howarth handles it all fearlessly and musically if not with a particularly lovely sound. Manuela Custer's dark tone is ideal for Carlo's low notes, and Larmore adds some more spectacular singing to her recorded legacy. It would have been nice to hear more of tenor Colin Lee as Ormindo, the villain. Antonello Allemandi leads it all as if it were a masterpiece, which it clearly is not. As usual, Opera Rara's booklet is filled with tons of fascinating information. Fans of terrific singing will welcome this oddity.
--Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com
Works on This Recording
Maria Stuarda, regina di Scozia: Excerpt(s) by Saverio Mercadante
Manuela Custer (Alto),
Paul Putnins (Bass Baritone),
Jennifer Larmore (Mezzo Soprano),
Judith Howarth (Soprano),
Colin Lee (Tenor)
Geoffrey Mitchell Choir
Written: by 1821; Italy
Date of Recording: 04/2005
Venue: EMI Abbey Road Studios, London
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