Interesting that the
librettist of this oratorio, none other
than Pietro Metastasio, avoids biblical
passages completely. In doing so, this
lets in an emotive realism that allows
a quasi-operatic treatment by Prague-born
Myslivecek. The composer's penchant
for Metastasio in his thirty-odd operas
obviously extended to oratorio. The
apostle Peter becomes a major figure
in the drama. Absent from the crucifixion
itself, he has to make urgent enquiry
into the state of play. Enter Mary Magdalene
- a Biblical character under much re-evaluation
in current spirituality - who accompanied
Jesus to the cross. Other characters
include John (here of course Giovanni),
the second eyewitness, Joseph of Arimathea
So it is the human
emotions that are at the forefront here.
Peter has to come to terms with the
death of his Master, and is subject
to the all-too-human frailty of denial.
As Peter has to ask the others what
happened, the result is Myslivecek's
musical depiction of events in narrative
form. There follows a musical consideration
of the trials of Jesus' mother; then
comes the guilt and remorse of Mary
Magdalene and of Peter. The second part
of the Oratorio is a sequence of meditations
on the death and possible hope thereafter
including, of course, the Resurrection,
a concept which finally assumes the
status of certainty to the protagonists.
There are many arias
here, all da capo. It is a pleasure
to report that the singing, like the
playing, is of a nearly uniform high
quality. Try the Introduction to get
a feel of the excellence of Das Neue
Orchester – accents are painfully stabbing,
tremolandi intensely dramatic. It is
good to welcome Jörg Wlachinski
in the part of Peter. Male sopranos
are in short supply, and here is one
that relishes the quasi-operatic opportunities.
His aria, 'Giacché mi tremi in
seno' (close to J. C. Bach in style)
shows his agility, his sure, clean slurs
and his open voice perfectly. Matching
him musically is soprano Sophie Karthäuser,
her sad aria 'Vorrei dirti il mio dolore'
full of superb legato phrasing. Her
long Part II aria, 'Ai passi erranti'
(9'01 in duration) is Karthäuser's
moment of musical triumph.
Interesting that the
part of John is taken by a female (contralto
Yvonne Berg). Berg is simply superb,
interestingly, nowhere more so than
in her recitative towards the end of
Part I ('Dopo un pegno sì grande
d'amore'). Her Part II aria, 'Ritornerà
fra voi' is scarcely less impressive.
tenor voice can be strong, but it can
also display a tremulous side that is
perhaps less alluring. It is this that
makes him the weakest of the soloists.
But certainly not so weak as to take
away recommendation of this fascinating
issue. We are in Capriccio's debt for
revealing this little-known work in
such polished terms.
review by Johan van Veen