Mazzoni: Antigono / Onofri, Spyres, Mcgreevy, Lucciarini

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MAZZONI Antigono Enrico Onofri, cond; Michael Spyres ( Antigono ); Geraldine McGreevy ( Berenice ); Pamela Luciarini ( Demetrio ); Divino Sospiro DYNAMIC 7686/1–3 (3 CDs: 196:58) Live: Grand Auditorium, Lisbon 1/21–22/2011

Antonio Mazzoni was a fairly prolific Italian composer in the middle and late 18th century (1717–1785), and he wrote Antigono for the opening season of one of the world’s shortest-lived opera houses: the Ópera do Tejo in Lisbon. It opened on March 31, 1755, and was destroyed seven months later by an earthquake. (Its site is now a navy dockyard.) The libretto is by the famed Metastasio, and Mazzoni was clearly considered an important figure in his time. Metastasio wrote the librettos of the only three serious operas performed in the seven months of life for the opera house in Lisbon, and the choice of Mazzoni to write the music for one of them demonstrates his reputation at the time. He wrote perhaps 19 operas (we aren’t sure), many of which have not survived. Antigono is performed here in a critical edition edited by Nicholas McNayr.

Some people argue that works that have been forgotten lie in obscurity for good reason. Others argue that there is often merit in undiscovered works, whether or not they reach the stature of greatness. I tend to fall into that latter category. Antigono is no undiscovered masterpiece; a good many of its arias go along like sewing-machine music, humming along without making real impact. However, there are a number of arias and ensembles that do hold the attention of the listener, and reward that attention. This is an opera that is neither great nor terrible, but in that vast middle range. It will provide pleasure to those who enjoy hearing something out of the ordinary. The musical style is best described as late Baroque, with plenty of vocal ornamentation required of the cast. There are some passages of striking originality, including a brief solo harp interlude before the final scene. This is the type of opera against which Gluck rebelled, but we don’t have to choose between Gluck and that which he opposed; we can have both. Dynamic’s performance is very well sung, despite the need for a large and accomplished cast of soloists. I do wish a more imaginative and energetic conductor were on the podium, though Onofri gets some energy going in the march in the middle of the first act, and in general manages real energy in the faster music. However, he doesn’t seem to be able to sustain the musical line or intensity at slower speeds and in the more gentle numbers.

Each of the six characters has at least one challenging aria that makes excessive technical and expressive demands. With four soprano roles, one would ideally like tonal differentiation, but that might be asking too much. What is remarkable here is that all four sing very well. We may be a generation lacking in the great Verdi and verismo singers that we had in the middle of the 20th century, but we surely have more fine Baroque and Classical singers who can turn out roulades and trills with ease. In addition to the four sopranos, the role of Alessandro is sung by a countertenor, and Martin Oro manages it fairly well but without the vocal ease of the great ones. The only traditional male voice in Antigono is the title character, sung by the American tenor Michael Spyres. His is a triumphant performance. His singing of his first aria “Tu m’involasti un regno” is jaw-droppingly spectacular in its technical feats.

I wish Dynamic had a more thoughtful approach to their productions. They make a libretto available on their web site, and I did download and print it, but it is an inconvenience. They could offer the set at two prices, with a higher one including the libretto. In addition, they have misspelled at least one and probably two of the names of their singers. Geraldine McGreevy uses the upper case “G” even on her own web site, but Dynamic spells it Mcgreevy throughout. And all other recordings and web site references to soprano Pamela Luciarini spell her name with one “c,” whereas Dynamic spells it with two. The notes about the opera are informative but the plot summary is rudimentary and too brief. The recorded sound is well balanced and clear, and the audience is not intrusive at all. The only applause we hear is at the ends of acts. Anyone with an interest in opera before Mozart is likely to find this of interest, particularly in this fine performance. It might even be preferable on a recording, because one can listen to one act at a time (each act is an hour or longer), and one can skip past some of the recitatives (sorry, purists).

FANFARE: Henry Fogel

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: DYN-CDS7686

  • UPC: 8007144076863

  • Label: Dynamic

  • Composer: Antonio Mazzoni

  • Conductor: Enrico Onofri

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Divino Sospiro

  • Performer: Ana Quintans, Geraldine McGreevy, Maria Hinojosa Montenegro, Martin Oro, Michael Spyres, Pamela Lucciarini