Sacchini is one of those highly talented musicians who hover
at the periphery of music history but were greatly successful
in their lifetime. In the case of Sacchini an echo of his fame
can be heard through the present work which has some claims
to be his masterpiece. It was performed regularly at the Paris
Opéra between 1787 and 1830, which is remarkable indeed and
then was revived in 1843.
was born in Florence but was taken to Naples at the age of four
where he was admitted to the Conservatorio when he was ten.
His teacher was Francesco Durante, who is probably more well-known
today. He obviously moved about within Italy and gained recognition
both as opera composer and singing teacher. One of his pupils
was Nancy Storace, who among other things was Mozart’s first
Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro - “The Julie Andrews of
the 18th Century” as one source nicely puts it.
then went to Stuttgart and Munich and came to London in 1772
where he remained for ten years. At first successful, he later
ran into financial trouble and moved to Paris in 1781. There
he became a favourite with the Queen but met opposition from
parts of the musical establishment. His opera Dardanus
was staged at Fontainebleau in 1785 but to his grief Œdipe
lay unperformed during his lifetime. The disappointment is said
to have contributed to his death. In 1787 Œdipe reached
the Opéra; too late for the composer.
to this recording it is easy to understand the longevity of
the work. It is a highly accomplished piece of music drama,
pointing forward beyond Gluck, who is the closest contemporary
comparison. In fact there is a Gluckian nobility in the more
reflective moments. Sacchini also has a dramatic integrity and
power in the long and often intense accompanied recitatives.
At his best, as in the long scene with Œdipe and Antigone in
act two (CD1 tr. 14-16), he tends to overshadow even Mozart
for dramatic acuity, though he can’t compete with the Salzburg
master when it comes to musical invention and melodic memorability.
Still he writes expressive and grateful music, as for example
the singing part for Polynice in the first scene (CD1 tr. 3)
and at the beginning of scene 4 (CD1 tr. 10). Antigone’s aria
in act three (CD2 tr. 2), is heroic and tragic to match the
text. This is a fairly long aria; mostly they are very short
but his flexible style allows him to move more or less imperceptibly
from recitative to aria with the orchestra a very active part,
not just accompanying. In this respect he might almost be likened
to late period Verdi. The writing creates a feeling of unity
and cohesion, underlined here by Ryan Brown’s eager conducting.
Just as in his recording of Gluck’s Orphée et Euridice
he opts for swift tempos and had at least this reviewer sitting
on the edge of his chair. There is such vitality and thrust
in his reading that the work stands out as perhaps better than
it actually is, but for my money this is an opera to set beside
Gluck, Haydn and Mozart as a superb example of late 18th
century music theatre. Readers should be warned though that,
this being a French opera, there are some decorative elements,
like scene 3 of the first act with choruses and dances. The
whole opera ends in a kind of anti-climax with an eight-minute
ballet sequence. All of this is superbly performed; good music
but more or less superfluous.
Opera Lafayette perform with enthusiasm and flair and Brown
and producer Max Wilcox have gathered a fine line-up of soloists.
Some of the smaller parts are taken by members of the chorus
and among the main characters the experienced François Loup
is a deeply involved Œdipe, expressive and with a rich pallet
of vocal colours. His daughter Antigone is the dramatically
vibrant Nathalie Paulin who is also able to express the nobility
of her character. The two tenors, Tony Boutté and Robert Getchell,
are excellent; especially the latter who is a model of lyric
tenor singing of music from this period. He should be a likewise
excellent Don Ottavio or Tamino.
booklet gives, in the usual Naxos manner, all the information
one could possibly expect within the space available and besides
a good track-related synopsis we also get the French libretto.
The English translation can be downloaded.
is one of the more thrilling “finds” within the operatic genre.