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Francesco CAVALLI (1602-1676)
Arias and Duets

Didone (1641): excerpts from Acts I, II and III [18:14]
Egisto (1643): excerpts from Acts II and III [16:38]
Ormindo (1644): excerpts from Acts I and III [07:15]
Giasone (1649): excerpts from Acts I, II and III [20:36]
Calisto (1651): excerpts from Acts I, II and III [13:46]
Rosita Frisani, soprano; Gloria Banditelli, mezzo; Gianluca Belfiori Doro, alto; Mario Cecchetti, tenor; Roberto Abbondanza, baritone
Meditarraneo Concento/Sergio Vartolo
Recorded in November 2003 at Chiesa Vecchia di San Zeno, Cavalo, Verona, Italy DDD
NAXOS 8.557746 [76:34]


Francesco Cavalli, a pupil of Claudio Monteverdi, was the leading opera composer in Venice in the middle of the 17th century. His operas represent the next stage in the development of the genre. In two aspects they are different from Monteverdi's: there is a stronger contrast between recitative and aria, and the complete dominance of the text over the music has given way to a more lyrical style. Despite the importance of Cavalli's many operas in music history, they are far less frequently performed and recorded than Monteverdi's. Only a handful of them are available on disc. From that perspective this recording with fragments from five operas is most welcome. It shows that the lack of interest cannot be put down to any want of musical quality.

A programme like this isn't unproblematic, though. The contrast between recitative and aria may be stronger than in Monteverdi's operas but they are still closely connected, as the lyrics of the arias demonstrate. Here we find many references to the story of the opera. This makes their isolation from the dramatic context rather unsatisfying. This is partly compensated for by an extensive synopsis of the operas in the booklet, but what is still lacking is the development of the respective characters, and the way this is reflected in the music. Only complete performances of the operas can show whether the singers do justice to the characters.

As far as I know three of the operas represented here have been recorded (more or less) completel: Didone by Thomas Hengelbrock, and Giasone and La Calisto by René Jacobs. One can imagine some people hesitating over buying those recordings, if they don't know whether they like Cavalli's music. Those very people may be well served by this disc as the the fragments have been well-chosen.

One of the most beloved musical forms was the lament: the programme contains several. But operas at that time also started to contain comic characters and story lines, like Giasone, which was Cavalli's most popular and admired, but also most despised and criticised opera.

It is a shame that the performances are somewhat uneven. Some singers are rather unconvincing in the fragments they have to sing. In particular the alto Gianluca Belfiori Doro is disappointing: his voice is too weak, in particular in the lower register, where he doesn't use his chest register. In addition to that his singing is marred by a continuous wobble. Mario Cecchetti's performances are uneven: as Enea (Aeneas) in Didone he shows little presence and his singing lacks expression. He does much better as Demo in the comical scene from Giasone.

Gloria Banditelli and Roberto Abbondanza, on the other hand, are very impressive, and demonstrate that the performance of dramatic roles comes natural to them. Banditelli, for instance, gives a moving performance of Dido's lament in Didone. Rosita Frisani was an unknown quantity to me, but makes a very good impression here, for example in Isifile's lament in Giasone. Unfortunately she uses too wide a vibrato in some recitatives.

The instrumental ensemble is small: two violins, two violas and basso continuo, with additional winds (two transverse flutes, two trumpets) and percussion. This is in accordance with what is known about the instrumental forces in the theatres at the time. These were rather small, and didn't allow larger groupings. The playing here is excellent, as is Sergio Vartolo's support of the singers on the harpsichord.

In short, despite the uneven quality of the interpretations, this disc is good enough to convince any music lover that Cavalli's operas are well worth listening to. One can only hope that more of Cavalli's operas will be recorded completely in the future.

Johan van Veen

see also review by Robert Hugill

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