Notes and Editorial Reviews
Long overshadowed by Mozart, here's an opera that proves a rewarding experience.
Few recordings of hitherto obscure 18th-century operas have been as convincing as this. Joseph Schuster (1748-1812) was the son of a bass singer who had worked for Hasse in Dresden. After pursuing musical studies in Italy, the young composer acquired a respectable reputation for both serious and comic operas. The Dresden poet Schubart wrote that Schuster's style 'is bold and full of fire.. his instrumental accompaniment is fiery, but without overwhelming the singing. His modulations are bold and unexpected; his aria motifs new and vivid'. Demofoonte is adapted from an old libretto by Metastasio, and its rapid emotional contrasts and a succession of sudden controversial revelations within a spectacularly dysfunctional royal family makes Handel's allegedly complicated opera plots seem comparatively straightforward. Schuster's setting was produced to celebrate the opening of a new theatre in the Italian provincial town of ForlI in the summer of 1776. It starred the famous soprano castrato Pacchierotti, who was apparently so gifted that the ForlI opera orchestra broke into tears during one of his arias in a performance of Bertoni's Artaserse. The cast of this recording provides a solid and satisfying team performance. In the title-role, Andreas Post contrasts melting smoothness with a more vibrant tone and flexible attack according to the prescribed sentiment in the aria text. Dorothee Mields contributes soft attractive singing. The male soprano Jorg Waschinski's voice is not uniformly agreeable despite his larynx producing astonishing feats of stratospheric accomplishment. Marie Melnitzki's tone is slightly too pinched and harsh on her highest staccato notes, but her aria 'Tu sai chi son' typifies the merits of this enjoyable performance: the horns are robust yet never ugly, and the accompaniment is persuasively directed by Ludger Rémy. The orchestra, La Ciaccona, is first-rate: its players demonstrate expressive weight and stylish grace (although occasionally the period brass and woodwind slip up). Their founder and leader Ulla Schneider discovered the autograph manuscript of Demofoonte in 2000, and this recording is a worthy achievement: Schuster's music is more charismatic and interesting than one might expect from a previously little-known composer living in the shadow of Mozart. It is a shame that the cluttered booklet splits artist biographies alongside the libretto texts, but this does not diminish an essential purchase for anyone interested in the remote yet rewarding byways of classical opera.
-- David Vickers, Gramophone