WORKS: Il più bel nome
PERFORMER: María Espada, Raquel Andueza, Marianne Beate Kielland, Robin Blaze, Agustín Prunell-Friend; Cor de Cambra d’Antiga de l’Esmuc; El Concierto Español/Emilio Moreno
CATALOGUE NO: GCD 920310
Antonio Caldara eventually became famous as a composer in Vienna in the 1720s, but this work is earlier. It was probably written in Barcelona in 1708 for the marriage between Archduke Charles and Elisabeth of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel.
In fact this is not strictly an opera but a serenata, a cantata-like piece performed in the open air in the evening with minimal scenery. Moreover, it has very little plot – Venus and Paris argue with Juno and Hercules over who has greatest beauty, only to be told that the bride ‘Elisa’ (that is, Elisabeth) surpasses them all.
This means that the performers need to make the most of the passionate exchanges in the arguments, and just three of these singers are capable of doing that. María Espada as Venus faces down Juno in a wonderful display of ornamentation in ‘Dati pace’, and Marianne Kielland as Hercules is delightfully mocking and accusatory in the aria ‘Così fai’ addressed to Paris.
Elisa’s name is finally revealed with impressive vocal and declamatory skill by Augustin Prunell-Friend (as Fate) in ‘Al grande onor’ which, unlike most of the other arias, is richly scored. The orchestra is unfailingly perky and nuanced, though its erratic changes of speed can create problems for the singer (as in ‘Spezzar quella catena’, for Hercules).
The music is interesting, though the serenata genre probably falls a little too awkwardly between stage and concert hall for some modern tastes. Anthony Pryer