ALBUM TITLE: Bottesini
WORKS: Ero e Leandro
PERFORMER: Gian Luca Pasolini (Leandro), Roberto Scandiuzzi (Ariofarne); Crema Claudio Monteverdi Chorus/Bruno Gini; Piemonte Philharmonic Orchestra/Aldo Salvagno
CATALOGUE NO: CDS 670/1-2
Giovanni Bottesini (1821-89) is a largely forgotten figure outside the world of double bass players – he was known during his lifetime as the Paganini of the instrument and composed much for it. But he was an eminent and versatile musician. As a conductor, Bottesini’s chief claim to fame was the first performance of Verdi’s Aida, in Cairo in 1871. As a composer, he introduced his own operas in Cuba, Italy, Paris and London, as well as writing some admired string quartets.
This rare revival of one of his major scores was promoted by a local association in Crema in Lombardy, Italy, where Bottesini was born. The libretto of this three-act piece is by no less a figure than Arrigo Boito, librettist of Verdi’s Otello and Falstaff and composer of a five-act opera with his own libretto after Goethe, Mefistofele. Ero e Leandro tells the story of the love between Hero, priestess of Aphrodite and her lover Leander, who in Greek mythology swam the treacherous Hellespont dividing them to visit her, Hero guiding him with a lamp. In Boito’s version, which he intended for his own use, there’s also a malicious high priest, Ariofarne, who wants Hero for himself.
The result is no lost masterpiece – the action is static, with not quite enough dramatic moments to counter the lyrical ones. But Bottesini floods the piece with attractive melody. Anyone interested in Italian opera of the period (1879) will find it an enjoyable discovery.
This live performance from 2009 has some untidy moments orchestrally, though conductor Aldo Salvagno generally steers it along effectively. Neither soprano Véronique Mercier’s Ero nor tenor Gian Luca Pasolini’s Leandro is ideal, but bass Roberto Scandiuzzi’s bass possesses solid splendour as Ariofarne.