Arias for Silvio Garghetti: The Habsburg Star Tenor
Neue Wiener Hofkapelle/Markus Miesenberger (tenor)
rec. Augustiner Chorherrenstift St. Florian, Altomontesaal, Austria, 2017
PAN CLASSICS PC10372 [62:32]
This recording, which presents fifteen tenor arias composed in Vienna during a fifteen-year span at the start of the eighteenth century, has its origins in a chance observation by Austrian tenor Markus Miesenberger during a visit to the archives at the Austrian National Library in Vienna. The appearance of a single name, ‘Silvio’, among the singers listed in the score of a pigskin-bound manuscript of an opera by Giovanni Bononcini kindled Miesenberger’s curiosity, particularly because ‘Silvio’ was the only singer to be denominated solely by his first name. Further research ensued, leading to the identification of one Silvio Garghetti, possibly the son of tenor Pietro Santi Garghetti, who had been employed as a tenor at the Viennese Imperial court from 1702 until his death in 1729, during which time he took part in performances of 28 operas and oratorios. Some Googling, lateral thinking and a few leaps of faith led Miesenberger to the conclusion that Garghetti “was clearly the outstanding lyrical tenor of his time in Vienna” and a ‘star tenor in the modern sense of the word’.
Several things cause me to question Miesenberger’s surmise. First, listing singers by a single first or family name was by no means unusual, as the manuscript of Francesco Conti’s Il finto Policare, from which Miesenberger sings an aria here, attests: the list of ‘Attori’ reads Silvio, Gaetano, La Conti, La Seognina, Domonico, Borosoni, Bigoni, Pietro Paolo and Lorenzo. In contrast, the ‘Persone che cantato’ in the manuscript of Conti’s Amore in Tessaglia provides full names for all singers including ‘Silvio Garghetti’.
Moreover, a ‘star tenor’ (ignoring any modern connotations) would presumably have considerable public presence and fame. But, many of the works which Miesenberger performs on this disc would have been presented in private settings within the Imperial Palace, intended as they were not as public operas but as intimate secular dramas – poemetto dramatico or serenate – celebrating, for example, the name days and anniversaries of the Emperor Joseph and his family; which also explains why the instrumental forces often comprise just strings and continuo, with the latter assuming a dominant role in many of the vocal arias. Indeed, Miesenberger’s remark that the arias on this disc present a “representative cross-section of operatic music performed at the Viennese Imperial court” seems misleading, overlooking as it does the fact that the serenata was a distinct and discrete genre at this time.
What, though, of the music itself, and its performance by Miesenberger and the seven members of the Neue Wiener Hofkapelle? The work of Johann Joseph Fux, who was Kapellmeister from 1715 and one of the most significant Austrian composers of the Baroque period, is well-represented. The opening item, ‘Vola già di lido in lido’ comes from Julio Ascanio, Ré d’Alba, a single-act work which was first performed at the Imperial Palace on 19 March 1708 to celebrate the name-day of Emperor Joseph I. Harry White, the editor of Johann Joseph Fux and the Music of the Austro-Italian Baroque (1992) describes Julio Ascanio as a serenata. Like Pulcheria, performed two months later in the grotto of La Favorita garden at the Palace in honour of the Empress’s name-day on 21 June, it sets a poemetto dramatico by Pier Antonio Bernardoni.
The trumpet is a bright, energised presence in ‘Vola già’, conveying the textual imagery – ‘shining fame’, ‘strong arm and heart’ – and Miesenberger sings with forthrightness and agility, though the passagework is quite aspirated. His tenor has an unfortunate tendency to coarsen a little as he crescendos and swells through a sustained note. One imagines that at the first performance there were considerably more players per part than the single instrumentalists here: the strings, though lively, cannot balance the vigour of the trumpet’s gleam.
White reveals that the audience for Pulcheria included invited ambassadors and dignitaries, and that the cast was identical to that which had performed Julio Ascanio, comprising two sopranos, Kunigunde Sutter and Anna Maria Lisi Badia, Gaetano Orsini, an alto castrato who took the leading role, Garghetti and the bass Raniero Borrini. ‘So che d’aquila è costume’ is accompanied by the organ alone, which introduces the climbing runs characterising the aria’s depiction of the eagle which spreads its wings towards the sun to show its valour. Miesenberger makes a good effort to use vocal colour to convey the sentiments of the text, but while his diction is clear, his pronunciation of the Italian vowels, especially at word-ends, is a little leaden and far from idiomatic. Fux’s Dafne in Lauro, a two-hour chamber composition, was composed to mark the 1714 birthday celebrations of Emperor Charles VI. It is the lower strings who bear the continuo duties in ‘Non è il sol che col raggio vitale’, and here Miesenberger lightens the weight of his tenor and softens the tone, at least in the A section of the da capo form; but despite some shapely cello playing, and the refreshing entry of the upper strings at the close, the aria inevitably lacks harmonic and textural interest.
There are four arias by Francesco Conti, a highly esteemed mandolin and theorbo player who joined the Imperial musicians as a theorbist in 1701 and later succeeded Fux as Kapellmeister. ‘Di mia glorie il vanto e’l fasto’ is a substantial aria from a genuine opera seria in three acts, Alba Cornelia, which begins with an expressive preface for the upper strings, lute and organ, the lyricism and delicacy of which Miesenberger cannot match in the slow extended vocal phrases. ‘Ardo anch’io ne son bastani’ from Amore in Tessaglia flows more naturally and fluently though, excepting some slightly cumbersome elaboration in the da capo repeat, culminating in an ungainly climb into head-voice territory. The accompaniment is animated, if again rather light-weight. However, there’s a vibrant percussive snap to ‘Se al mio braccio togliesti quell brando’ from Conti’s three-act tragicommedia, Il finto Policare, and Miesenberger’s well-focused, even strength across the registers fittingly conveys the resilient defiance of the text.
Giovanni Bononcini is largely remembered as Handel’s chief, ultimately defeated, rival in London, after he had been invited to the capital in 1720 by the Royal Academy of Music. The lute accompaniment to ‘Il mio cor parla’ from Proteo sul Reno is overpowered by the vocal line, and this is a pity as Miesenberger injects a touching earnestness into this aria. And, ‘Farò guerra a la terra’ from Il fiore delle Eroine, presents another opportunity for the trumpet to demonstrate its military bravura and the tenor to nip nimbly through the rhetorical war-mongering bluster. In ‘Ei già gode più sereno’ from Il ritorno di Giulio Cesare, Miesenberger’s thoughtful phrasing evokes a consoling sincerity; this is one of the most expressively satisfying numbers on the disc. Giovanni’s brother, Antonio, is not overlooked: ‘Per sentir di bass a frode’ from Arminio has plenty of stirring swagger from the voice and abrasive effrontery from the strings, but again the balance needed more attention from the engineers, particularly as there is some tight dialogue between the violin and voice. ‘Due numi del core’ from La presa di Tebe is more captivatingly lyrical than some of the other slower numbers, and again Miesenberger works hard to communicate the sentiments of the text.
Antonio Caldara, who was Imperial Vizekapellmeister from 1716 until his death 1736, composed La verità nell’inganno in 1717 for the annual celebration of Emperor Charles VI's name-day in 1717. ‘Nelle membra lacerate’ is characterised by musical clichés of ‘vengeance’ and doesn’t make a lasting impression. Marc’ Antonio Ziani preceded Caldara in the role of Vizekapellmeister, joining Leopold I’s service in 1700. The organ establishes a tender mood in ‘Chi piacere altrui desia’ from La Flora, which Miesenberger largely sustains; his middle and low registers flow soothingly and sweetly here, his tenor acquires a compelling earnestness as it rises, and Miesenberger shapes the larger-scale form effectively. When La Flora was performed in 1706, the work incorporated an inserted aria by Emperor Joseph I, ‘Più d’ogni stella’. Miesenberger suggests that this demonstrates the respect that the Emperor had for Ziani, but one suspects that the ‘servant’ could hardly refuse his master’s request for an opportunity to demonstrate his ‘talent’; the text – “The one I love/ Is more beautiful to me/ Than any star/ Or any dawn” – is as mundane as the music and the aria is included, one presumes, for novelty value.
Miesenberger concludes his liner note with a surfeit of hedonist gustatory metaphors – “Pasta con frutti di mare”, “tiramisu with a large portion of mascarpone”, “the creamiest cappuccino” – to convey the rich fulfilment offered by these arias associated with Garghetti, but his hyperbolic enthusiasm is not supported by this recording; neither music nor performances lack accomplishment, but both are more representative of cocoa than champagne. The collection does, however, spark interest in a period, context and repertoire which undoubtedly deserve fuller investigation.
Johann Joseph FUX (1660-1715)
‘Vola già di lido in lido’ from Julio Ascanio, Ré d’Alba (Vienna, 1708)
Marc’ Antonio ZIANI (1653-1715)
‘Chi piacere altrui desia’ from La Flora (Vienna, 1706)
Antonio BONONCINI (1677-1726)
‘Per sentir di bass a frode’ from Arminio (Vienna, 1706)
Giovanni BONONCINI (1670-1747)
‘Il mio cor parla’ from Proteo sul Reno (Vienna, 1703)
Antonio CALDARA (1670-1736)
‘Nelle membra lacerate’ from La verità nell’inganno (Vienna, 1717)
‘Due numi del core’ from La presa di Tebe (Vienna, 1704)
‘Farò guerra a la terra’ from Il fiore delle Eroine (Vienna, 1704)
Francesco CONTI (1681-1732)
‘Di mia glorie il vanto e’l fasto’ from Alba Cornelia (Vienna, 1714)
Emperor JOSEPH I (1678-1711)
‘Più d’ogni stella’ from La Flora (Vienna, 1706)
‘Cieca amante, ingrata figlia’ from Il finto Policare (Vienna, 1716)
Johann Joseph FUX
‘Non è il sol che col raggio vitale’ from Dafne in Lauro (Vienna, 1714)
Johann Joseph FUX
‘So che d’aquila è costume’ from Pulcheria (Vienna, 1708)
‘Ei già gode più sereno’ from Il ritorno di Giulio Cesare (Vienna, 1704)
‘Ardo anch’io ne son bastani’ from Amore in Tessaglia (Vienna, 1718)
‘Se al mio braccio togliesti quell brando’ from Il finto Policare (Vienna, 1716)