JS Bach’s youngest son, Johann Christian (‘the London Bach’), is best remembered today for his instrumental music and its influence on the young Mozart. This is a rare chance to hear one of his many Italian operas – Zanaida, written for the King’s Theatre in 1763 and thought lost until its remarkable rediscovery two years ago.
Inspired by the contemporary vogue for exotica and intrigue, Giovanni Bottarelli’s libretto entwines political and romantic alliances between the key players of the Persian and Turkish empires. While the story is one of passion, deception and power, the score is characterised by control, clarity and grace. Epitomising the fashionable style galant, JC Bach’s music is the antithesis of his father’s, with its pretty melodies and bravura arias, simple rhythms and sheer textures. It’s a charming work, enriched by exotic orchestral colours and modish ‘Turquerie’ but apart from a compelling quartet at the end of Act I (intimating Mozart’s ‘Andrò ramingo e solo’ from Idomeneo), it lacks dramatic intensity.
Conductor David Stern drives a high-energy performance from Opera Fuoco, with spirited orchestral playing and brisk if rather unyielding tempos accenting the work’s exuberance.
The cast of young singers is well balanced, though some of the more virtuosic arias present quite a challenge. Soprano Sara Hershkowitz gracefully negotiates the intricate role of the eponymous heroine, baritone Pierrick Boisseau makes a noble Mustafa and mezzo-soprano Marina de Liso is a rich-toned Tamasse, though her vibrato is at times intrusive.
The soloists and wind instruments are placed up front in the recording for a vivid and detailed sound.