OP2953. Virginia (Mercadante), w.Bennini Cond.London Phil.; Susan Patterson, Paul Charles Clarke, Stefano Antonucci, Charles Castronovo, Andrew Foster-Williams, Katherine Manley, Mark Le Brocq, etc. 2-Opera Rara ORC 39. Includes Elaborate 139pp. Libretto-Book. Final Copy! - 0792938003924
"For 35 years, the Opera Rara label, one of the quietly heroic enterprises, has rescued many forgotten 19th-century operas from obscurity, chiefly from the bel canto era, and making live performance a priority. Its latest, a world premiere recording, is Mercadante's VIRGINIA, so hot a political subject in 1850s Italy - its power-struggle story from Livy all too close for contemporary comfort despite the thin disguise of ancient Rome - that the work was banned and only first performed in 1866.
The Neapolitan Mercadante (1795-1870) is hardly a top name on anyone's lips, though Opera Rara has worked hard to restore his reputation, with several complete opera recordings and much anthologising. VIRGINIA is packed with vivid high drama and music to match. A tale of courage and injustice as patricians and plebs slug it out, murdering as they go, the work calls for big voices, a sturdy chorus and a bravura orchestra.
These are amply provided here, with the bonus of the Royal Opera's chorus director Renato Balsadonna directing the versatile Geoffrey Mitchell Choir who convince variously as priests, revellers, grandees, lictors, populace and slaves. American soprano Susan Patterson sounds characterful and robust as the beautiful, low-born heroine, with Paul Charles Clarke as the bullying, ignoble Appio and Stefano Antonucci as the troubled father.
Encouraged by Rossini but more influenced by the fashionable grand opera styles of Meyerbeer and Halévy, Mercadante's music has shades of Verdi, without the same powers of invention. It's clear why he didn't make the highest artistic rung. Yet the energy and passion are infectious, from menacing, brass-heavy overture to urgent cabalettas and stirring ensembles.
Run by a small team of dedicated enthusiasts, Opera Rara relies on the patronage of an opera-crazy few and, especially, the Peter Moores Foundation, with all profits reinvested in new projects. Can this kind of serious, small business ethos survive a recession? We can but hope. No one else occupies this specialised yet invaluable terrain. If you have a taste for melody and melodrama, try this."
- Fiona Maddocks, The Observer, 31 Jan., 2009
"Every leading Italian operatic composer of the first six decades of the 19th century had problems with censors. Verdi's disputes over RIGOLETTO and UN BALLO IN MASCHERA were notorious, but many other works by Rossini, Bellini and Donizetti were rewritten to appease the arbiters of what was deemed morally, religiously or politically correct.
An extreme reaction to the censor's red pencil is provided by the last of Saverio Mercadante's works to reach the stage. VIRGINIA, completed in 1850, was not performed until 1866 because the composer simply refused to make alterations; it was only after a regime change in 1860-61 that he premiered his score at the Teatro San Carlo, Naples. Like his stirring ORAZI E CURIAZI of 1846, recorded by Opera Rara on ORC12, VIRGINIA is set in ancient Rome, where the heroine (sung by Susan Patterson), daughter of the soldier Virginio (Stefano Antonucci), is assailed by the corrupt and powerful Appio (Paul Charles Clarke) as part of an ongoing conflict between patricians and plebeians that ends with Virginia's father stabbing her rather than relinquish his daughter to their oppressor. Opera Rara revived VIRGINIA in concert back in 1976, and now presents the work's CD debut as part of our ongoing commitment to the music of one of 19th century opera's most fascinating figures.
The 2-CD set comes with a lavishly illustrated book including a complete libretto with an English translation and introduction by Jeremy Commons."
- Zillah Dorset Akron