Porpora Germanico in Germania
Max Emanuel Cenčić, Julia Lezhneva, Mary-Ellen Nesi, Juan Sancho, Dilyara Idrisova, Hasnaa Bennani; Capella Cracoviensis/Jan Tomasz Adamus
Decca 483 1523 217:39 mins (3 discs)
Germanico in Germania (1732) is pure Porpora, requiring god-like vocal powers and, from audiences, tolerance for creaky dramatics. The action pits Germanic chief Arminio against Roman commander Germanico. Defying her father Segeste, Rosmonda stands by her spouse Arminio, while her sister, Ersinda, stoutly backs their father. Set pieces – pleading, scorn, lamentation, love vows – preface and follow Germanico’s capture of Armino, whom he sentences to death before agreeing to share the rule of Germania with him. This opera is all about power, and no one needs more of it than the principal singers. Porpora paces Act I to culminate in Germanicus’s ‘Like a storm pounding’. Porpora’s writing, fitted originally to the artistry of famed castrato Domenico Annabili, spurs countertenor Max Emanuel Cenčić on to dash madly through his passagi and land, astonishingly, at the cadence before the band does.
The arias leading up to Cenčić’s are nearly as breath taking: as Arminio, Mary-Ellen Nesi ends ‘Cherish your heart’s constancy’ with a heart-stopping extemporisation; as Ersinda, Julia Lezhneva simply tosses off the bonkers diminutions of her first air. Laments in Act II alter the mood, and here conductor Jan Tomasz Adamus’s extreme tempos work against the singers: either he presses forward, business-like, denying vocalists the space they need, or he slows up too much. In Nesi’s ‘Parto, ti lascio, o cara’, for instance, a plodding metre weighs down what should be a gossamer-light siciliano. Overall, a lighter touch for this world-premiere recording – less martial, less pushy, less supercharged – might have better served Porpora. But for those who prize vocal virtuosity, this opera is a jewel.