Donizetti/Costa/Mercadante

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Donizetti/Costa/Mercadante
LABELS: Opera Rara
WORKS: Operatic scenes
PERFORMER: Nelly Miricioiu (soprano), etc; Geoffrey Mitchell Choir, Philharmonia Orchestra, LPO/David Parry
CATALOGUE NO: ORR 217
Opera Rara has long been in a class of its own in promoting neglected bel canto repertoire. And, drawing on a successful recipe, it here presents a clutch of operatic scenes – all dating from the 1830s – as a showcase for the talents of a star singer. The scena Michael Costa composed for Giulia Grisi to sing in the London premiere of Rossini’s L’assedio di Corinto is in turn conventionally elegiac and vapidly brilliant. But the Romanza from Donizetti’s Parisina is a ravishing piece of lyrical writing, while the two big finales, from Mercadante’s fervid melodrama Emma d’Antiochia and Donizetti’s Classical tragedy Belisario, grow powerfully from soulful cavatinas to anguished, viscerally thrilling climaxes.

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Nelly Miricioiu, our latterday Grisi and Pasta, has the bravura brilliance and subtle feeling for bel canto line without which this music is neutered. If high notes are occasionally a touch vinegarish, and words can be hazy, à la Sutherland and Caballé, her voice is a tangy, richly responsive instrument. And she identifies palpably with the various plights of these hapless heroines. Of the various supporting artists, Mary Plazas makes a feisty, agile Adelia in Emma d’Antiochia (her duet of reconcilation with Miricioiu one of the disc’s high points), and there are telling cameo contributions from mezzo Alice Coote and basso cantante Ildebrando D’Arcangelo. As ever, David Parry conducts with flair and dramatic energy, while the booklet, with full texts and translations and fascinating notes from Jeremy Commons, is in the luxury class. Richard Wigmore