If you bring together
a Spanish youth orchestra, a cast of young Spanish and Italian
opera singers and a distinguished editor of Rossini’s music
then a recording of Cavalli’s second opera would not be the
most obvious outcome. But this live recording from the 2004
Festival Mozart at La Coruña has done just that.
The opera is Gli
amori d’Apollo e di Dafne, which was Cavalli’s first collaboration
with Busanello, the librettist of Monteverdi’s L’Incoronazione
di Poppea. Gli amori was first performed in 1640
at the Teatro S. Cassiano in Venice. The plot is the usual rather
free mixture of mix-ups between gods and goddesses. The main
thread running through the opera is Apollo’s pursuit of Dafne.
But along the way we encounter Titone - immortal but no longer
young - and his youthful wife Aurora, who is cheating on him
with Cefalo, whose wife Procri is distraught. Venus, in her
turn, is upset by Apollo and Jove suggests using Amore to remedy
things; this is the main engine for the Apollo/Dafne plot. In
amongst these are the comic moments, mainly relating to the
old lady, Cirilla, who is played by a high tenor (Jose Ferrero).
The opera’s music
only survives in a single manuscript, which seems to be lacking
four scenes, two each from the ends of Act 1 and of Act 2. But
editor Federico Agostinelli, in his illuminating note, suggests
that these final scenes may perhaps have not been set. We have
no way of knowing, but the opera works as it stands.
In common with most
operas of the period, in the manuscript the vocal lines are
notated with just a bass line plus some figuring. Instrumental
lines are specified just for the ritornelli, sinfonias and balli.
Some commentators suggest that in the commercial theatre of
Cavalli’s day, this apparently bare instrumentation reflected
the small scale of the performances. That the grandiose instrumental
ensembles of such operas as Orfeo reflect the deep pockets
of the aristocratic patrons. Agostinelli belongs to the other
camp and his edition of the opera includes additional instrumental
lines. This is perhaps sensible as it enables the work to be
performed in larger theatres by more traditional ensembles.
Zedda has taken
this to its logical conclusion and produced a performance perfectly
tailored to his essentially non-period forces. It is inevitable
that compromises must be reached when performing 17th
century opera in the atmosphere of a 19th century
opera house, but in recent years great strides have been made
in bridging the gap. ENO’s recent performances of Orfeo
were notable in this respect.
Zedda defends his
decisions in a slightly combative essay entitled The Musical
Baroque: Beyond Historicism. But perhaps the best way
to judge his editorial decisions and the resulting performance
is with our ears.
From the opening
sinfonia, the Orquesta Joven de la Sinfonica de Galicia sounds
remarkably well upholstered. Also the rich string section plays
very definitely with bows on strings, so the resulting sound
is rather 19th century. After a number of listenings,
I realised what the sound-world of this disc reminded me of
– Respighi’s Ancient Airs and Dances. The singers are
accompanied by a lively and accomplished continuo group but
in the arias and little melodic flowerings, we get attractive
The result is undoubtedly
attractive and the orchestra plays well, provided you don’t
mind hearing Cavalli filtered through more recent ears.
The singers all
belong to the generation that seems to be relatively comfortable
flitting between baroque music and more modern opera. But the
careers of Mario Zeffiri (Apollo) and Marianna Pizzolato (Dafne)
seem to be very strongly centred on 19th century
opera. Their performances here are dramatic and accomplished.
They are adept at suitable ornamentation and they make much
of Cavalli’s ariosi and declamati, but to my ears it all sounds
filtered through 19th century sensibility. This is
emphasised by the way that most singers utilise vibrato and
their way with phrasing. The openness of their vocal projection
and their way of shaping the music seem to owe something to
later performance practice.
Perhaps this is
inevitable in a performance that has been adjusted to allow
it to be performed in an ordinary opera house. I have no problems
with this and welcome the way traditional theatres are expanding
their repertoire. There is also the added issue here, that the
orchestra is a training institution and these performances enabled
them to experience the 17th century operatic repertoire.
It is just that I am not completely convinced that this is a
desirable source of a recording.
For me the most
problematical aspect of the entire project is Mario Zeffiri’s
voice. He sings with a forward, bright tenor. The part of Apollo
lies quite high and the result is at times rather edgy, over-bright
and over-projected. It reminded me of some old LPs I have of
Nicolai Gedda singing early Italian Baroque arias. You admire
the technique but feel that something is amiss.
If this feeling
of a 17th century opera filtered through 19th
century sensibility does not bother you, then there is much
to enjoy here. Act 1 finished with a glorious lament for Procri
(Assumpta Mateu) as she bewails her husband’s infidelity. This
is the sort of thing that Cavalli does well, the long flexible
structures full of melodic flowerings. They are a long way from
the more formalised operatic structures of the later 17th
and 18th centuries.
But all is not gloom
of course. Jose Ferrero copes well with the comic role of Cirilla
and Amore (Soledad Cardoso) has a delightful dance-based number
in Act 2. The young cast are very hard working, many singing
multiple roles, and within the parameters which the performance
sets itself, all the singers are successful. Zeffiri and Pizzolato
get the most extended dramatic opportunities and they make the
most of them, breathing life into the dramatic structures of
Cavalli and Busanello.
This is a welcome
opportunity to hear one of Cavalli’s earliest operas. As you
would expect with Zedda at the helm, the performance has good
dramatic pacing, though there are times when things get a little
too well upholstered and comfortable. But don’t listen if you
dislike the idea of Cavalli filtered through a 19th