Mercadante: Virginia

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Mercadante
LABELS: Opera Rara
WORKS: Virginia
PERFORMER: Susan Patterson, Stefano Antonucci, Paul Charles Clarke, Charles Castronovo, Andrew Foster-Williams, Mark Le Brocq, Katherine Manley; Geoffrey Mitchell Choir; London PO/Maurizio Benini
CATALOGUE NO: ORC 39

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Though composed in the early 1850s and thus a work of Saverio Mercadante’s maturity, Virginia was the last-produced of his operas – in 1866 at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples. Its premiere was delayed by the city’s Bourbon censors, sensitive to the way in which autocratic rulers were shown on stage.

The libretto by Salvatore Cammarano (responsible also for Lucia di Lammermoor) takes up the classical Roman story of the Appius, whose attempt to consolidate power leads him to passing a law forbidding patricians and plebeians to marry.

His plan backfires when he falls in love with Virginia, daughter of the plebeian soldier Virginio and already betrothed to the plebeian Icilio. His attempts to win her by foul means are thwarted by Virginio who, rather than see his daughter violated by a corrupt patrician, stabs her in a fit of desperation.

The music of Mercadante, one of Verdi’s most prolific precursors, may carry few surprises, but this score is expressive, grandiose and – ultimately – exciting. Maurizio Benini draws a strong and stylish performance from the London Philharmonic, and the Geoffrey Mitchell Choir makes vivid contributions.

Susan Patterson has moments of unevenness in the title role, but delivers her opening cabaletta with bravura and generally discloses a soprano of impressive amplitude. The tenors Paul Charles Clarke (Appio) and Charles Castronovo (Icilio) are nicely contrasted, and the smaller parts are all well filled.

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In sum, another classy Opera Rara release that puts us – and the long-neglected Mercadante – in its debt. John Allison