Cagnoni: Don Bucefalo / Caldi, Girardi, Silvestri, Morace, Mizuki

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CAGNONI Don Bucefalo Massimiliano Caldi, cond; Filippo Morace ( Don Bucefalo ); Angelica Girardi ( Rosa ); Francesco Marsiglia ( Il conte di Belprato ); Mizuki Date ( Agata ); Francesca de Giorgi ( Giannetta ); Massimiliano Silvestri ( Carlino ); Graziano de Pace ( Don Marco ); Slovak Ch of Bratislava; Intl O of Italy DYNAMIC 634 (2 CDs: 107:13 Text and Translation)

A 19-year-old Antonio Cagnoni (1828–1896) wrote Don Bucefalo as his graduation piece for the Milan Conservatory. It was actually his third opera, at a time when the leading Italian institutions of musical scholarship focused their energies upon training composers of vocal music. Don Bucefalo was such a success in 1847 that the astute Giovanni Ricordi, founder of the Ricordi music-publishing empire, immediately bought up the rights, and the work triumphed throughout the Italian states.

The libretto by Calisto Bassi was based on Giuseppe Palmoba’s Le cantatrice villane , set very successfully by Valentino Fioravanti and premiered in 1799. There are two plots, skillfully entwined. The Goldoni-like first of these involves the expected farcical complications of a beautiful young woman, two suitors, and a jealous husband in disguise and home from the wars. What gives the work its distinctive character is the second plot, about a chorus master who has suddenly appeared in the town, where he assures all the local peasants that their voices are magnificent if untrained, and that like all great singers, they could make huge fortunes if they only received the proper schooling.

Stylistically, the piece owes most to Donizetti, though there are also moments such as the act II finale that recall Rossini; and an act I cavatina for Rosa (“Innocente, sincero è l’affetto”) is clearly beholden to Bellini. The score reinvigorates the cliché about “bubbling over with good humor,” perhaps its finest moment being a lengthy monologue for Don Bucefalo (“Ingrata fantasia!”) that shows him trying to write the verses and music of a dramatic aria. We hear the various naive, primitive effects he achieves as he builds his melody and adds instrumental colors one by one—until the results are a dead ringer for the distinctive style of early Verdi. Audiences in that opera-mad nation where Verdi’s star was in the ascendant must have caught it at once and howled with laughter, but there’s a great deal of enjoyment to be had from the skillfulness of the work’s many ensembles as well. The title role became a favorite of various basso buffos over the years, until styles changed and Don Bucefalo faded away with the new century.

The cast is competent enough to enjoy on its own, while suggesting what could be achieved with better singers. Morace’s bass is surprisingly thin and lacking in resonance, almost tenor-like; and de Pace, in the thankless role of Don Marco, actually sounds more appropriate for the buffo lead; but Morace gets the humor, and makes a decent theatrical effect. Girardi sings attractively, with a pleasantly floated tone, and manages her fioratura capably, if without much sense of ease. Marsiglia phrases lyrically in his one solo, “Oh! Come questo core,” but the diminuendos sit awkwardly on top of the voice, and he cuts off phrase endings too sharply. His act III duet with Girardi is considerably better. Silvestri, with a narrow tone and trumpet-like, Lauri-Volpi-style production, is potentially more interesting, but has little to do. Date’s undisciplined soprano is exciting, with some finely spun notes in addition to a nascent wobble, dropped consonants, and a problem moving stepwise. I suspect some of the oddly slow tempos in the concerted numbers of act I are due to the singers’ general lack of agility. Otherwise, the International Orchestra of Italy is several steps above the average Italian ensemble, and Caldi conducts with an ear to both rhythms and clarity.

The sound is reasonably good, and an Italian/English libretto is available online from Dynamic’s Web site. I could wish that a topnotch cast had been chosen to usher in Don Bucefalo ’s CD recording premiere, but lacking that, this one will do. Anyone who enjoys Donizetti’s comic operas should find a lot to delight them here.

FANFARE: Barry Brenesal

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: DYN-CDS634

  • UPC: 8007144606343

  • Label: Dynamic

  • Composer: Antonio Cagnoni

  • Conductor: Massimiliano Caldi

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Bratislava Slovak Chorus, Italian International Orchestra

  • Performer: Angelica Girardi, Date Mizuki, Filippo Morace, Francesca De Giorgi, Francesco Marsiglia, Graziano De Pace, Massimiliano Silvestri