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Antonio SACCHINI (1730–1786)
Œdipe à Colone (1787) – An Opera in Three Acts based on the second of the three Theban plays of Sophocles
François Loup (baritone) – Œdipe; Nathalie Paulin (soprano) – Antigone; Robert Getchell (tenor) – Polynice; Tony Boutté (tenor) – Thésée; Kirsten Blaise (soprano) – Eriphile; Kara Morgan (soprano) – Une Athénienne; Jonathan Kimple (bass) – Grand Prêtre; Jason Kaminski (bass) – Un Hérault; Philip Cave (tenor) – Un Coryphée;
Opera Lafayette Orchestra and Chorus/Ryan Brown
rec. Vlarice Smith Performing Arts Center, University of Maryland, USA, 13-15 May 2005
NAXOS 8.660196-97 [67:54 + 44:53]

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Antonio Sacchini is one of those highly talented musicians who hover at the periphery of music history but were greatly successful in their lifetime. In the case of Sacchini an echo of his fame can be heard through the present work which has some claims to be his masterpiece. It was performed regularly at the Paris Opéra between 1787 and 1830, which is remarkable indeed and then was revived in 1843.

He was born in Florence but was taken to Naples at the age of four where he was admitted to the Conservatorio when he was ten. His teacher was Francesco Durante, who is probably more well-known today. He obviously moved about within Italy and gained recognition both as opera composer and singing teacher. One of his pupils was Nancy Storace, who among other things was Mozart’s first Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro - “The Julie Andrews of the 18th Century” as one source nicely puts it.

He then went to Stuttgart and Munich and came to London in 1772 where he remained for ten years. At first successful, he later ran into financial trouble and moved to Paris in 1781. There he became a favourite with the Queen but met opposition from parts of the musical establishment. His opera Dardanus was staged at Fontainebleau in 1785 but to his grief Œdipe lay unperformed during his lifetime. The disappointment is said to have contributed to his death. In 1787 Œdipe reached the Opéra; too late for the composer.

Listening to this recording it is easy to understand the longevity of the work. It is a highly accomplished piece of music drama, pointing forward beyond Gluck, who is the closest contemporary comparison. In fact there is a Gluckian nobility in the more reflective moments. Sacchini also has a dramatic integrity and power in the long and often intense accompanied recitatives. At his best, as in the long scene with Œdipe and Antigone in act two (CD1 tr. 14-16), he tends to overshadow even Mozart for dramatic acuity, though he can’t compete with the Salzburg master when it comes to musical invention and melodic memorability. Still he writes expressive and grateful music, as for example the singing part for Polynice in the first scene (CD1 tr. 3) and at the beginning of scene 4 (CD1 tr. 10). Antigone’s aria in act three (CD2 tr. 2), is heroic and tragic to match the text. This is a fairly long aria; mostly they are very short but his flexible style allows him to move more or less imperceptibly from recitative to aria with the orchestra a very active part, not just accompanying. In this respect he might almost be likened to late period Verdi. The writing creates a feeling of unity and cohesion, underlined here by Ryan Brown’s eager conducting. Just as in his recording of Gluck’s Orphée et Euridice (see review) he opts for swift tempos and had at least this reviewer sitting on the edge of his chair. There is such vitality and thrust in his reading that the work stands out as perhaps better than it actually is, but for my money this is an opera to set beside Gluck, Haydn and Mozart as a superb example of late 18th century music theatre. Readers should be warned though that, this being a French opera, there are some decorative elements, like scene 3 of the first act with choruses and dances. The whole opera ends in a kind of anti-climax with an eight-minute ballet sequence. All of this is superbly performed; good music but more or less superfluous.

The Opera Lafayette perform with enthusiasm and flair and Brown and producer Max Wilcox have gathered a fine line-up of soloists. Some of the smaller parts are taken by members of the chorus and among the main characters the experienced François Loup is a deeply involved Œdipe, expressive and with a rich pallet of vocal colours. His daughter Antigone is the dramatically vibrant Nathalie Paulin who is also able to express the nobility of her character. The two tenors, Tony Boutté and Robert Getchell, are excellent; especially the latter who is a model of lyric tenor singing of music from this period. He should be a likewise excellent Don Ottavio or Tamino.

The booklet gives, in the usual Naxos manner, all the information one could possibly expect within the space available and besides a good track-related synopsis we also get the French libretto. The English translation can be downloaded. 

This is one of the more thrilling “finds” within the operatic genre.

Göran Forsling


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