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Columna Musica

Vinceç CUYÀS (1816-1839)
La Fattucchiera – Opera in Two Acts [1838]
Simon Orfila - basso cantante – Ulrico, baró de Sant Pari
Ofèlia Sala - soprano – Ismalia, filla d’Ulrico
José Sempère - tenor – Oscar, de Romelia
Claudia Marchi -mezzo-soprano – Azila, fetillera, sota el nom d’Argea
Javier Franco - baritone – Blondello, trobador
Montserrat Benet - soprano - Bruixa
Chorus and Orchestra of the Gran Teatro del Liceu/Josep Pons
Live rec 26, 28 October 2001, Gran Teatro del Liceu, Barcelona, Spain
COLUMNA MUSICA 1CM0101 [73.39 + 67.33]

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Obscure opera resurrected in a concert performance with a splendid line-up of singers forms the basis of this very attractively packaged double disc set. La Fattucchiera is the first romantic opera written in Catalonia, Vinceç Cuyàs having been born in Palma de Mallorca and dying in Barcelona the year after the work’s premiere. There are clear relationships with the style of Bellini and even of Donizetti, but Cuyàs is also working in the more rigid formal structures that were still the expected norm in Catalonia in the 1830s.

The plot is based on a novel by the Viscount D’Arlincourt, which was already well known in Catalonia in translation. The action takes place in the 12th century, after the third crusade and is set in the Normandy castle of San Pari. D’Arlincourt’s novel adopts a pseudo-historical approach combining real events and characters - Richard the Lionheart and the wars between England and France over Normandy – with fictitious events and characters inspired by Tasso’s epic Gerusalemme Liberata. The Libretto was prepared by Felice Romani, freely adapted by Josep Llausàs i Mata (1817-1885). By this stage, there was not much of the historical aspect left and the plot revolves around a fairly predictable love triangle between the daughter of the Lord of San Pari castle (Ismailia) and the Captain of Richard the Lionheart’s troops (Oscar), with added menace from Oscar’s jilted former mistress Azila, now a sorceress under the name Argea. Curiously, Oscar, at some earlier time, has made a vow never openly to show his love for a woman before marrying her. If he breaks this vow he will bleed to death from an old crusading wound, which has been miraculously healed. Needless to say Ismailia, whom Oscar is to wed, doubts his love, egged on by Argea the sorceress. Eventually Oscar is forced to utter the fatal Io t’amo and drops dead.

The second act involves more witchcraft as Ismailia is persuaded by Argea that she can be reunited beyond the grave with Oscar, and Ismailia is thus lured to the Abbey where Argea is currently living. Various witchcraft doings bring the lovers together so that Argea can destroy them both, but a totally unbelievable (although quite commonplace at the time) Deus ex Machina protects them from the wrath of the sorceress and results in Oscar being redeemed by the love of Ismailia, who ends up lifeless on the ground. Argea throws herself off a handy cliff. Thus redemption and suicide, the two great romantic themes, provide the climax. Curiously the opera then abruptly ends, without the Bellinian final ensemble that one might expect.

The story then can be seen as fairly standard drivel of the period. What Cuyàs manages to do with the music is splendid. The scenes are long and through composed, giving a sense of pace to the action. Chorus and orchestra have major roles, the chorus not only providing the expected opening number and ubiquitous nuptial preparation festivities, but also take a major role in juxtaposition to the soloists. Many of the arias are extended works involving the chorus in dialogue with the soloist. The chorus and orchestra of the Gran Teatro del Liceu are well up to the score under the capable direction of Josep Pons.

Of the soloists, the two major roles fall to the soprano parts of Ismailia and Argea. Ismailia in particular is given some outstanding virtuoso passages, even in her first aria Sempre pensoso e torbido being required to handle fioriture including two octave arpeggios, wide leaps and long strings of trills. Although occasionally sounding somewhat over the top in the vibrato department (especially when also fortissimo at the top of the vocal range) Ofèlia Sala’s Ismailia is generally brilliantly executed. This writer’s personal favourite here however is the gorgeously dark and sultry voice of Claudia Marchi singing Argea. The sheer beauty of her sound is tremendous.

This production is attractively packaged in the form of a small hardbound book with the two CDs attached inside the front and back covers – so much nicer than the usual grotty plastic jewel case. Informative notes and a good synopsis are useful, although there has been an oversight in that the biographical note of the composer appears twice in Spanish and never in English. This is unfortunate given the obscurity of Vinceç Cuyàs, and his apparently youthful age at the time of his death. Equally oversightful is that although full texts are given, there are no translations of the Italian. Apart from these inconveniences this is an excellent production. The performance is committed and dramatic, and for anybody with an interest in early 19th century opera, this work of Vinceç Cuyàs must rate as a discovery well worth exploring.

Peter Wells

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