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Early Music

Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger

Antonio SALIERI (1750-1825)
Tarare, Opera in Five acts (1787) [184.00]
French text by Beaumarchais
Tarare ... Howard Crook (tenor)
Atar ... Jean-Philippe Lafont (baritone)
Spinette ... Anna Caleb (soprano)
Calpigi ... Eberhard Lorenz (tenor)
Altamort ... Nicolas Rivenq (bass)
Artenée ... Nicolas Rivenq (tenor)
Urson ... Jean Francois Gardeil (baritone)
Astasie ... Zehava Gal (soprano)
Le Génie du Feu ... Klaus Kirchner (baritone)
Le Génie de La Réproduction, des Êtres, où La Nature  ... Gabriele Rossmanith
Michel Laplenie, Chorus Master;
Deutsche Händel Solisten/Jean-Claude Malgoire
Heinz Balthes, Stage design; Daniel Ogier, Costumes; Jürgen Zoch, lighting.
Recorded at the Festspiele, Schwetzingen, Germany, 1988. [month and day not given]
Directed for video by Claus Viller.
Notes in English, Français, Deutsch. Synopsis, no printed texts or translations.
NTSC 4:3 DVD-9 Region 0 [All regions]
PCM 2.0 stereo sound, 48kHz 16Bit. Sung in French.
Menu languages: Deutsch, Français, English, Castellano.
Subtitle languages: Deutsch, Français, English, Castellano, Italiano, Japanese.
No PAL version available.


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It is repeatedly necessary to point out that the film Amadeus, which made Salieri’s name more famous around the world than it had ever been, also slandered him outrageously. He and Mozart were friendly rivals, and they spent many cordial hours studying scores together in Vienna archives. It was partly bad conscience on the part of other not-so-friendly rivals of Mozart (and rivals of Salieri) that caused them to turn on Salieri and make him ‘the heavy’ in the story after Mozart’s death. But Salieri got where he got by being a capable musician and by being a gracious, beloved man. When he became Liszt’s tutor, Salieri had a health crisis of some sort and Liszt’s family kept the news from Liszt until after he had finished the evening’s concert before telling him of it, for Liszt so loved his tutor he would have cancelled the concert and rushed at once to his bedside if he had known. We are not talking here about a murderer, the “Patron Saint of Mediocrities.”

Vienna intrigues could have won for Salieri a few more performances of his music in Vienna, but cannot have had any effect on Parisian audiences who enjoyed Salieri’s operas like this one and made them very popular and their composer very rich. In the film, Salieri criticises Mozart for failing to respect traditions and classical styles, something Salieri evidently considered himself the guardian of. Whatever, Liszt wanted very much to learn about operatic methods and styles so he could write piano music which expressed the passion and emotion of opera, and this he studied with Salieri. Liszt composed many songs of which some in their original vocal versions, e.g., Lorelei, and some in their piano transcriptions, e.g., Liebestraum and the Petrarch Sonnet settings, were among his most popular music. Arnold Schoenberg was 12 years old when Liszt died, and he studied Liszt’s music carefully. What I am pointing out is that between Salieri’s operas like Tarare and Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire there stands only Franz Liszt,* and it is that connection I am trying to understand. Join me if you wish.

I approached this opera recording expecting to see good theatre, good singing, and awful music, and that’s just what I found. The amiable musical snippets of which the score consists range from echoes of the Confederate anthem to glorious moments from Beethoven and Mozart that they hadn’t written yet. To begin with, Tarare is the original French version of Salieri’s Axur, Re d’Ormus, the Italian opera, revised and translated with the help of da Ponte, which opera played 29 times in 1788, twice the number of performances for Mozart’s Don Giovanni. And no wonder; Don Giovanni isn’t very funny, while Tarare/Axur is an utter riot! The vocal lines follow the words and stay in the centre of the singers’ best range; everybody sounds good and you can follow the words perfectly, without any distracting passion, anxiety, or character development.

The plot has to do with the Gods creating men and arbitrarily deciding that one will be a king and one a slave. Then, in a brief closing of the curtain, we move forward to the court of Atar the King who is furiously jealous of his slave Tarare’s beautiful wife Astasie. The King elaborately conspires to steal Astasie, but, with all the odds against them, Tarare and Astasie elaborately defeat the king with the power of their love and the strength of their character which leads at last to the declamation of the moral, that it is character and not worldly status that defines the value of a person. In between we have nearly three hours of riotous, colourful entertainment with singing, dancing, and stage hi-jinx of every kind. Don’t expect anything to make sense, with Muslims praying to Brahma, with ancient Egyptian priests, Tatar warriors, and French peasants dancing together. At one point Tarare is disguised as a negro and wears a caricature mask that some may find not just politically incorrect, but offensive. Whenever convenient, a trap door opens in the stage to swallow someone or some thing. Eberhard Lorenz as the courtier Calpigi, Anna Caleb as his compatriot Spinette, and Hannu Niemelä as the sinister high priest Altamort generally steal the show whenever they’re on stage, which is much of the time. In fact at the curtain call there seem to be more people on stage than sitting in the auditorium which causes a moment of horrified reflection as to what the ticket prices must have been. All praise the DVD!

Picture is clear and detailed, sound quality is excellent, DVD-Audio quality, expanding nicely in your surround sound processor.

*OK, and Rossini, but that doesn’t change my point, even though the Act I finale of Italiana finds a startling resonance in Pierrot Lunaire and the whole Act II of Italiana finds a startling resonance in Tarare.

Paul Shoemaker



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