Giuseppe Saverio MERCADANTE (1795-1870)
Don Chisciotte - melodramma giocoso in one act (1830) [102:01]
Don Chisciotte - Ugo Guagliardo (bass)
Sancio Pansa - Domenico Colaianni (buffo)
Chiteria - Laura Catrani (soprano)
Gamaccio - Ricardo Mirabelli (tenor)
Basilio - Hans Ever Mogolion (tenor)
Bernardo - Giulio Mastrototaro (baritone)
Cristina - Marisa Bove (soprano)
Don Diego - Filippo Polinelli (bass)
Fausto di Benedetto (harpsichord)
San Pietro a Majella Chorus, Naples; Czech Chamber Soloists, Brno/Antonio Fogliano
rec. live 17, 18, 21 July 2007, XIXth Rossini in Wildbad Festival
Notes and synopsis; Italian libretto download available from Naxos website.
NAXOS 8.660312-13 [62:42 + 39:19]
Composed and performed at Cadiz during Mercadante’s five year sojourn in Spain, this opera here receives its “world premiere recording” on Naxos. Compiled from three live performances at the Rossini Festival in Wildbad, its appearance at that festival is a clear acknowledgement of Mercadante’s indebtedness to Rossini. That influence is equally clearly tempered by the inclusion of Spanish folksongs and rhythms and what sound to modern ears like frequent echoes of Donizetti, when in fact the influence probably went in the other direction. Donizetti, although the greater composer, obviously learnt from Mercadante.
Mercadante’s aim was to introduce Italian opera to a Spanish audience largely unfamiliar with its conventions. He wanted to avoid over-complicating the form, plot or musical style of the work so devised an innovative combination of elements of both opera seria and opera buffo in one, short, single Act opera. These are couched in indigenous Spanish song and dance rhythms. Thus we have Neapolitan-style parlando passages melding into arias and cavatinas, an extended duet for the young lovers reminiscent of a Donizetti “melodramma giocoso” like “L’elisir d’amore” and a Finale which requires an ensemble of eight voices and a Rossini crescendo. For all its eclectic originality, the opera nonetheless remains rather formalistic and conventional simply because Mercadante rarely displays the kind of melodic fecundity or dramatic flair which Verdi and Donizetti had in abundance, nor is he quite able to make the music lift the way Rossini could.
The plot - an episode lifted from Chapter 20 of the iconic novel - is flimsy, though that would matter less if the music and performance themselves were more involving. There are characteristics of Mercadante’s music that I always enjoy: his martial energy, his prominent use of woodwind and his harmonic daring but they are more in evidence in other of his operas such a “Il giuramento” and “Orazi e Curiazi” than they are here.
The overture is sprightly, striking and positively reeks of Spain with its biting, insistent three-quarter-time refrain punctuated by brass and woodwind chords; it is hardly surprising that this music has been popular as concert piece entitled “Sinfonia caratteristica spagnola” (not “spagnuola”, as the Naxos notes have it). For me it is by far the most enjoyable ten minutes in the whole opera - which rather sadly suggests that things go downhill from there. To be frank, the jolly, Donizetti-style introductory chorus which follows soon reveals the ladies of the San Pietro a Majella Chorus to be a lamentably squawky lot - and they don’t improve. Nor was I cheered by the dry, gritty, almost voiceless Sancio and the two, similarly-voiced tenors who have that small, constricted, “cutting-edge” sound so prevalent today. The other two principals are more pleasing but of no special quality: Ugo Guagliardo possesses an agile, well-tuned bass of no distinction and soprano Laura Catalani has quite a big, blowsy sound with something of an edge and a good facility in coloratura. The Brno chamber orchestra are competent although there are intonation problems. Conductor Antonio Fogliani is now Director of the Rossini Wildbad Festival and has been building himself something of a reputation as a champion of early 19th century works. He conducts very well, with sensitivity and variety. The recorded sound is first-rate: clear and atmospheric with virtually no extraneous noise.
I would like to be more enthusiastic about a world premiere of a neglected opera by a composer whose star has long been eclipsed by his greater contemporaries Donizetti, Bellini and Verdi but this remains a work slight of plot and musically very formulaic; it will not pass as much more than a mild curiosity.  

Ralph Moore

Will not pass as much more than a mild curiosity.