LABELS: Arthaus Musik
ALBUM TITLE: Aureliano in Palmira
WORKS: Aureliano in Palmira
PERFORMER: Michael Spyres, Jessica Pratt, Lena Belkina; Chorus of the Teatro Comunale di Bologna; Orchestra Sinfonica G Rossini/Will Crutchfield; dir. Mario Martone (Pesaro, 2014)
CATALOGUE NO: DVD: 109073; Blu-ray: 109074
If you play these discs without reading about the opera first, you may get a shock. The overture is that to The Barber of Seville, here having its first outing. Since this opera wasn’t particularly successful, Rossini, never one to waste a good idea, used some of its material more than once later: the overture serves for Elisabetta, Regina d’Inghilterra again, and an aria of defiance in Aureliano turns up as Rosina’s ‘Una voce poco fa’ in Barber too. This was Rossini’s 11th opera, written when he was 21, so it’s hardly surprising that it has its weaknesses, though I was very agreeably surprised about how much I enjoyed it.
It’s mainly about two lovers who should be enemies but can’t be, and the ruler, the title character, who wants to marry the woman but is refused. He finally exercises clemency, and the lovers end happily. Familiar enough stuff, but the musical invention is lively, though at three hours and 20 minutes, it’s considerably too long. But the production, in period costumes, is excellent, and the singing on a very high level. The title role has the least interesting music, but Michael Spyres, a specialist in this repertoire, makes what he can of it. The lovers – the role of the male one was originally written for a castrato – are sung by Lena Belkina (Arsace, the male) and Jessica Pratt (the female), both of them evidently performers with a big future. There is a delightful pastoral scene, with three live goats (no vocal contribution), and the opera is briskly but sensitively conducted by Will Crutchfield, the well-known critic and musicologist. Michael Tanner