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Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)
Marino Faliero, overture (1835) [7:40]
Les Martyrs, overture (1840) [9:53]
Linda di Chamounix, overture (1842) [7:20]
Maria di Rohan, overture (1843) [10:13]
Don Pasquale, overture (1843) [6:32]
Domenico CIMAROSA (1749-1801)

Il Matrimonio Segreto, overture (1792) [6:34]; ‘Udite, tutti udite’ (Geronimo’s aria) [6:28]
Il fanatico per gli antichi romani, overture (1777)
Saverio MERCADANTE (1795-1870)

Sinfonia sopra i motivi dello Stabat mater di Rossini (c.1843) [10:21]
Philippe Huttenlocher (bar)
Monte-Carlo Opéra Orchestra/Claudio Scimone
Chambre de Lausanne Orchestra/Armin Jordan
Rec. 1970s. ADD
WARNER CLASSICS APEX 2564 62418-2 [73.55]
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This re-release of material not found in the CD catalogue is most welcome. Most of these overtures were released at a time when the Monte-Carlo Opéra were presenting lesser-known operatic works in the 1970s. This coupling with Cimarosa items from Lausanne is a bonus, though the inclusion of one aria seems a little out of place on a disc devoted to overtures.

The booklet does not give all dates, but as we can see, from the above list, we have Donizetti material principally from the early 1840s, a period towards the end of his life: a time when Donizetti’s output of operas was prolific. By then he had his most popular works, L’elisir d’amore, Lucrezia Borgia and Lucia di Lammermoor, under his belt and in the repertoire of the opera houses.

The overture Marino Faliero is the odd one out datewise amongst this Donizetti collection since it stems from an earlier period. The opera is loosely based on Byron’s tragedy of 1821. The scoring here presents a variety of moods, elegantly presented, and confirms the proficient compositions this composer was capable of in his early years.

The Martyrs, initially written as the tragedy Poliuto, was first seen in Paris after being banned by the Italian censors to play in Naples a couple of years earlier; this order of events often plagued productions in Naples. The adapted book by Scribe tells of a Roman Poliuto’s secret conversion to Christianity and how he is condemned to death as a result. His wife, who is in love with the Roman Proconsul, decides to join her husband and die with him. Its overture contains strong thematic material blended with stirring and fascinating rhythmic undercurrents.

Linda di Chamounix likewise attempts to provide a hybrid of the Italian semi-seria with the French opéra comique. The overture must rank amongst one of Donizetti’s best. A melodious and warm introduction offers a romantic opening before much stronger thematic material takes over. A haunting and charming theme with French influence soon provides a link with opéra comique characteristics. Donizetti shows his skill in seamlessly interweaving both stronger and lighter themes. Scimone provides a spirited reading with all the necessary sparkle.

Relaxation into a more casual style of composition is provided in the opera buffa, Don Pasquale, with its comic overtones of a highly tuneful overture. The lightly sprung reading by Scimone certainly captures the sparkle and mischief found in the piece.

Maria di Rohan starts with ominous fanfare and mournful three minutes viola-led opening section before gathering momentum to take us to a heavily scored yet more tuneful main section: it skillfully reflects the power of action found in this opera. The tragedy has a heavy plot where a secretly married girl falls in love with a Count, who is challenged to a duel by her husband. The Count is killed by her husband and the she is made to live a life of disgrace for her unfaithfulness. The opera was written for a Parisian audience, and though Donizetti attempts to slant his Italian style to suit the French, what we hear is an overture with noticeably German influences.

The Monte-Carlo Orchestra is on good form here. Those who know Fulton’s reading of La Muette de Portici (EMI) with them can appreciate this orchestra’s brilliant playing of vivacious passages.

The Cimarosa overtures are more lightly scored than those of Donizetti, yet are equally charming. Il Matrimonio Segreto is the most frequently revived of his comic operas. Its text is taken from ‘The Clandestine Marriage’, a book by Colman and Garrick. A wealthy citizen of Bologna attempts to marry off one of his daughters to an English count. But the count prefers his other daughter who, unknown to father and count, is secretly married to a young lawyer. An elopement is planned with a tangle of mistaken identities, yet all ends happily. One may be forgiven for considering that this might be a piece from the pen of Mozart because there are strong likenesses of style and orchestration. The piece flows with ease in this fluid reading by Jordan and good responsiveness by his orchestra.

Included is Geronimo’s aria - an unusual item to include with a disc devoted to overtures. Sung by Philippe Huttenlocher, the aria buffa announces that this rich merchant’s daughter, Elisetta, will become a countess. He also promises that he will arrange a noble and no less fitting marriage to his other daughter, Carolina. Huttenlocher ideally captures the mood of the piece.

Il Fanatico per gli Antichi Romani is Cimarosa’s earliest known opera of which the score fortunately still survives. This long overture is divided into three distinct sections: an Allegro, Andantino grazioso, Allegro. It is good to have this music available so that one can study the output of the composer at his freshest. The strings are placed forward to good effect and the speed of the outer movements gives the work appeal. The Andantino seems perhaps a little too pedantic.

Included as a filler for this disc is a piece Mercadante wrote on themes from Rossini’s Stabat Mater. This is believed to have been written to precede performances of the Rossini work, yet its date is uncertain. A heavy and powerful opening portrays imminent dangers before some of the plaintive melodies are introduced to carry forward the main body of the piece. One will be aware of a popular Rossini theme used for the central section of the piece.

The booklet contains brief notes on the composers and less on the operas for which the overtures were written. The notes are written in English, French and German.

Raymond Walker



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