Stuart Jackson, Jennifer France, Gemma Summerfield, Angela Simkin, Tom Verney, Rachel Kelly; The Mozartists/Ian Page
Signum SIGCD 692 140:10 mins (2 discs)
This 2016 live concert of Niccolò Jommelli’s Il Vologeso was the second production in director Ian Page’s ‘MOZART 250’ project. Begun in 2015 as an annual series, the project showcases early-career vocalists in obscure but influential works that premiered 250 years before their revivals in this format. Il Vologeso, first performed in 1766, is stuffed with innovations – daring modulations, complex textures, rich accompagnato recitative, fluid ensemble finales – on which Mozart later built.
But why issue a five-year-old performance? There are other recordings available, and in the sleeve notes Page admits to moments that ‘did not go as well’ as they had in rehearsal. What commends this one-off concert version of Il Vologeso is its raw energy. Yes, there are rushed and late entries, especially in the first act; some sustained notes wobble, and there’s smearing in the Act III horn solos. Far more important, however, is the recklessness with which Page’s principals abandon themselves to the story’s weirdly unchained anger.
Roman Emperor Lucio Vero (Stuart Jackson) violently pursues Berenice, Queen of Armenia (Gemma Summerfield), who defends both herself and her betrothed Vologeso, King of Parthia (Rachel Kelly). Jackson’s brazen top notes and crazy-fast melismas reveal a ruler as conflicted as he is cruel, while Summerfield’s brilliant, steely coloratura and searing lyricism convey Berenice’s resolve. Kelly is every inch the hero, at once tender yet regal, above all in her graceful lament ‘Cara, deh serbami’. In Jommelli’s multi-section finale, Page springs loads of surprises and paces his dynamics superbly. Although unpolished, this Il Vologeso is a gem.