Bertoni’s ‘Orfeo ed Euridice’

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COMPOSERS: Bertoni
LABELS: Fra Bernado
ALBUM TITLE: Bertoni
WORKS: Orfeo ed Euridice
PERFORMER: Vivica Genaux (mezzo-soprano), Francesca Lombardi Mazzulli (soprano), Jan Petryka (tenor); Accademia di Santo Spirito di Ferrara; Ensemble Lorenzo da Ponte/Roberto Zarpellon
CATALOGUE NO: Fra Bernardo FB 1601729

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Orfeo ed Euridice (1776), composed or perhaps, rather, arranged by the Italian Ferdinando Bertoni (1725-1813), is essentially a one-act cover version of Christoph Willibald Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice (1762). Bertoni not only reset the same libretto, but also cribbed much of his music from Gluck. The driving force behind it was its star, the castrato Gaetano Guadagni. Gluck had written Orfeo ed Euridice for him, and after its premiere in Vienna, Guadagni helped put together various pasticcio versions of the Gluck opera for his later engagements. Bertoni’s Orfeo was the last of a series of such works, of which Guadagni was increasingly the owner.

Concision, Gluckean elegance, and Guadagni-centric design alike recommend this opera for modern production. In his 70-minute score Bertoni captures Gluck’s most appealing innovations: choruses, dances, instrumental parts and arioso recitatives that propel the drama forward. Climaxes occur chiefly in the course of Guadagni’s own gorgeous, tumultuous arioso. Mezzo-soprano Vivica Genaux channels the grandeur that made Guadagni famous, to which she brings a brooding intensity and velvety vocal timbres in what is altogether a truly moving performance.

Matching her is soprano Francesca Lombardi Mazzulli as Euridice, who brings off straight tones at top register, heightening the tensions whipped up by conductor Roberto Zarpellon. There are also weaknesses: tenor Jan Petryka swells notes, the chorus’s ensemble is shaky, and the balance between vocalists and the period band favours the singers to excess.

Still, this performance is more compelling than the only other recording to have been made of Bertoni’s Orfeo, and gives new integrity to a work meant chiefly to burnish the star persona of a top singer.

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Berta Joncus