Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

Nimbus on-line

Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Domenico CIMAROSA (1749 – 1801)
Le Astuzie Femminili Opera in two acts
Il Signor Giampaolo Nelson Portella (bass)
Bellina Daniela Dessì (soprano)
Dottor Romualdo Simone Alaimo (baritone)
Filandro Michele Farruggia (tenor)
Ersilia Adele Cossi (soprano)
Leonara Petra Malakova (mezzo-soprano)
Orchestra del Festival di Martina Franca/Massimo De Bernart
Recorded 3rd August 1984 Teatro Verdi and remastered DDD
WARNER FONIT 8573 83528 [CD1: 68.22 CD2: 58.10]

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Occasionally one listens to a disc which can only be described as "fun". That could be because of different specific aspects, or, as here, because it is the whole ambience. The cast sound as if they are enjoying themselves and the orchestra is enthusiastic and entertaining. The libretto and music can only described as written to provide ‘light’ entertainment.

Whilst the music may be ‘light’ nevertheless there are moments of excellent lyricism. It was Stendhal who would be hanged before choosing his preference between Mozart and Cimarosa. To our twenty first century ears a comparison may be made, but Mozart would be the unhesitating choice. Certainly that is the position if judged by the number of performances over the last one hundred years.

Take this comparison just a little further. How would you translate Così fan tutte (first performed 1790). And what offers would you make for Le Astuzie Femminili (first performed 1794)? Unbelievable disguises are the key plot elements of both operas. There the similarity ends for Cimarosa’s librettist Giuseppe (sometimes called Giovanni) Palomba was not intent on proving anything to anyone. The disguise element appeared in many of Cimarosa’s operas: not so with Mozart and nor with Cimarosa’s most popular /performed opera Il Matrimonio Segreto.

The performance history of this opera is reviewed in the translation of the notes in the accompanying booklet. There is also an accurate review of the libretto with a commentary on its strengths and weaknesses and with observations on the strengths (not weaknesses) of Cimarosa’s composition. One strength not mentioned which gives spontaneity to much of the work is his disregard for consistent musical structure. Further if a different tempo is required then that appears instantly and so the vehicle of fun is provided; which is seized here.

That is particularly true of the orchestral support which gives the singers a splendid foundation. There is no evident taut control by De Bernart but on closer listening the control is there but with a deft touch so the spontaneity of the performance is not lost. Sometimes, but only sometimes, the tempo change is a little like waiting for the clock to strike, but for the most part fluidity is ever present.

Neither a synopsis of the opera, nor a translation (nor pagination) of the libretto are provided. However the extensive commentary on the characters, their roles and high musical moments perhaps make the former superfluous, while the omission of the latter is somewhat of a disappointment. We will skip that and pick up the point made in the notes that "the central figure in the opera is Don Giampaolo…who…risks stealing the show". I am sure that is correct in performance and while apparent on the CD the other potential show stealer must be Dottor Romualdo sung here by the mellifluous tones of Simone Alaimo. His colourful singing and excellent vocal contrasts coupled with superb diction put him forward strongly as the CD "stealer".

Curiously Nelson Portella as Giampaola is a strongly entertaining musical character given the "hummable "arias – perhaps the best two – but whose "buffa" character does not come through quite so strongly on the CD as it would on stage. Gun waving mayhem and the like really needs visual support to vocal fun to "steal" a show. All that said Portella sings the role superbly. Here is a true opera buffa stereotype drawn well and sung even better.

That is particularly so in his interplay with Bellina, sung by Daniela Dessì. She sounds happiest in the ensembles. Which is hardly surprising because a love-lorn soprano heroine told in a will that she will only inherit if she marries another is not going to be a bundle of fun with her tenor hero sung by Michele Farruggia. But her first aria/duet Addio per sempre… with him as with the later duet Un palpito atroce… is a total pleasure. They achieve an excellently mutually supportive balance.

Michele Farruggia seems to take time to find total vocal comfort in his role. Early on loud and soft are not quite enough but as he moves on, particularly in his "disguised" voice, tonal variation comes forth and colourful contrast appears.

Our reliable notes tell us that both the supporting roles are entrusted with musical treasures. Adele Cossi, given an aria described as "half lyrical/half playful" seems not to know that and fails to bring out sufficiently strongly either quality. There is also a suspicion of off-key notes at one or two points. Petra Malakova has an aria "of Mozartian grace" and she rises to the occasion – just. Elsewhere there is no such doubt and her vocal skills are displayed fully in her supporting role.

That is the analysis. But who wants to analyse something that will cause you to smile if not laugh out loud: and when did you last do that when listening to opera? This is opera buffa on stage: so the singing voice moves across the stage and you can hear that; the Russian ballet sounds more like a clog dance that a ballet; there is a very occasional irritating audience noise. So what? This is great entertainment and for £18.95 you will receive more than your money’s worth of fun.

Robert McKechnie

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