WORKS: La vestale
PERFORMER: Rosalind Plowright, Gisella Pasino, Francisco Araiza, Pierre Lefèbvre, Arturo Cauli, Franco de Grandis; Bavarian Radio Choir, Munich Radio Orchestra/Gustav Kuhn
CATALOGUE NO: C 256 922 H DDD
One of many Italians who made good in Paris, Gaspare Spontini provided Napoleon with a grand opera stylistically somewhere between Gluck and Rossini.La vestale was perhaps Berlioz’s favourite opera, and its architectural grandeur and melodic sweep, matched by a wealthof detail in harmony and orchestration, retain their appeal. Act II is a celebrated crescendo – aria, duet, trio and finale – ending with the High Priest and chorus pronouncing anathema on the Vestal Virgin who has received her lover and allowed the sacred fireto die; what a pity that good value (three acts, two discs) dictates a side-change in the middle!
Like Gluck’s Alceste this is nearlya one-role opera. A lively orchestral and choral performance (thefinal climax is truly thrilling) is unfortunately marred by uneven principals: Pierre Lefèbvre’s coarsely wooden Cinna, which does not improve, is a bad start, though Francisco Araiza’s pleasantly stolid Licinius warms up well enough. The priestly roles are suitably grim, but the performance is carried by Rosalind Plowright, a singer ofrare dramatic power even if some unappealing tone escapes her in moments of passion. Nevertheless her soft singing is beautifully intense and the great aria in Act II is particularly moving. Julian Rushton