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Mercadante: Virginia / Benini, Patterson, Antonucci, Clarke, Castronovo

Release Date: 03/10/2009 
Label:  Opera Rara   Catalog #: 39   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Saverio Mercadante
Performer:  Paul Charles ClarkeAndrew Foster-WilliamsSusan PattersonCharles Castronovo,   ... 
Conductor:  Maurizio Benini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Geoffrey Mitchell ChoirLondon Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

MERCADANTE Virginia Maurizio Benini, cond; Susan Patterson ( Virginia ); Katherine Manley ( Tullia ); Paul Charles Clarke ( Appio ); Charles Castronovo ( Icilio ); Stefano Antonucci ( Virginio ); Andrew Foster-Williams ( Marco ); Mark le Brocq ( Read more class="ARIAL12i">Valerio ); Geoffrey Mitchell Ch; London PO OPERA RARA 39 (2 CDs: 156:21 Text and Translation)

It is thanks to the industriousness of Opera Rara and the parallel market that we can now claim some familiarity with the work of Saverio Mercadante. Not only did he compose operas, but also a great deal of instrumental music, including a number of flute concertos available on CD. But this review is concerned with his operatic output, and in the style of David Johnson I will enumerate the operas (of the 60 he wrote) now available to the public:

Maria Stuarda (highlights)—1821

Caritea —1826

Zaira (highlights)—1831

I normanni a Parigi (highlights–forthcoming)—1832

Emma d’Antiochia —1834

Il giuramento (several recordings)—1837

Elena da Feltre —1838

Il bravo (two recordings)—1839

La vestale (two recordings)—1840

Il reggente —1843

Orazi e Curiazi —1846

Virginia —1851/1866

Some of these recordings are far from optimal in terms of either performance or the recording itself. One or two other works were once available on LP, but seem not to have been re-edited. In addition, arias and ensembles can be found on a number of recital albums, with again a nod to Opera Rara: a sextet from Amleto is of particular interest, with Hamlet as a travesty role.

Virginia is given two dates because, though completed in 1851, the Neapolitan censor would not approve the libretto, so the composer put the work away until the situation became favorable, all recounted in Jeremy Commons’s accompanying essay. The plebians Virginia and Icilio are betrothed, but the noble Appio wants her for himself; however, miscegenation between plebs and nobles is illegal. After much machination, Virginio stabs his daughter after Appio has had Icilio murdered, so that Appio will not have his way. Confrontations are many, including a duet for the tenors Appio and Icilio, not to mention the finale to act I, which is a trio for the two men and Virginia. Mercadante’s long-lined melodies are still a significant feature of his work, as well as the cabalettas, which vary in effectiveness. The concertati of the other two finales are as imposing as any written by the composer, with an introductory stanza by one of the principals followed by a grand ensemble. Once again, it is the soprano who seems to be from another age when vocal extravagance was important, but the same is true of Verdi’s operas of that period, where his heroines must also carry out amazing feats of derring-do. Yes, there are similarities in formal structure, but we sense that the older composer is no longer seeking originality, while the younger man is for the moment writing operas that are more and more concise.

Maurizio Benini and the London Philharmonic are in superb form, instrumental obbligatos eliciting sterling performances. Susan Patterson—a newcomer to the Opera Rara ranks—in the title role shows off a voice capable of all the composer’s demands, from sheer virtuosity to loving fiancée to tragic figure. I was far less happy with the Appio of Paul Charles Clarke, whose tendency to break the vocal line with overly emphatic vowels often had me cringing. Charles Castronovo’s Icilio is quite different, the voice not as rich but making his dramatic points while remaining musical. The microphone is not always kind to his rapid vibrato. Stefano Antonucci’s Virginio may not offer the tonal clarity or richness of some other baritones, but his command of line is never in doubt, so the dilemma with which he is confronted is clearly rendered. Andrew Foster-Williams’s few utterances show off a nicely contrasted bass voice.

While reading about the creators of the opera, and at the same time listening to the act I finale-trio in an earlier recording from Opera Rara in which the role of Icilio is sung by a baritone, I became curious about Giorgio Stighelli, who was a German tenor (b. Georg Stiegele, 1815–1868) who even sang in America in 1864–65. He was a composer, particularly known for his setting of Heine’s poem, “Die schönste Augen,” an arrangement of which turned up in a collection of band music from the Moravian community in North Carolina. Amazing what one can find on the Internet.

FANFARE: Joel Kasow
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Works on This Recording

Virginia by Saverio Mercadante
Performer:  Paul Charles Clarke (Tenor), Andrew Foster-Williams (Bass Baritone), Susan Patterson (Soprano),
Charles Castronovo (Tenor), Katherine Manley (Soprano), Mark Le Brocq (Tenor),
Stefano Antonucci (Baritone)
Conductor:  Maurizio Benini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Geoffrey Mitchell Choir,  London Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1824; Vienna, Austria 

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