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Giovanni PAISIELLO (1740 – 1816)
Arias for Castrato
Filippo Mineccia (counter-tenor)
Divino Sospiro/Massimo Mazzeo
rec. 2017, Centro Cultural de BÚlem, Lisbon
Sung texts with English translations enclosed
PAN CLASSICS PC10394 [66:54]

Giovanni Paisiello was one of the most prolific opera composers of the late 18th century. Officially he wrote 94 but a list on Wikipedia names 96, written between 1764 and 1808. Add to this 20 secular cantatas, a dozen oratorios, passions and sacred cantatas, lots of other religious works and 25 instrumental works, including 9 string quartets and 8 keyboard concertos. He can’t have had much spare time! He wrote many of his operas for Naples but they also spread to other cities. In 1776 he was invited by the empress Catherine II of Russia to St. Petersburg, where he remained for eight years. There he wrote his most famous opera, Il barbiere di Siviglia, a work that is still performed occasionally, albeit today it has been outdistanced by Rossini’s corresponding work. Paisiello’s followers reacted violently and hostilely at the premiere of the Rossini work in 1816, maintaining that it was sacrilege to use what was basically the same libretto. This was on the other hand quite common in those days. Many of Metastasio’s librettos were set multiple times. And we shouldn’t forget that Paisiello had committed a similar “crime” when he set the same text as Pergolesi had done of La serva padrona (review).

That Paisiello reached an enormous popularity during his lifetime stands without doubt, just as the popularity soon waned, as did others’ as well. The present album is instructive insofar as we also gets glimpses from works by three other contemporaries of Paisiello: Felice Alessandri and Giacomo Tritto, who both are largely forgotten, and Domenico Cimarosa, whose reputation today primarily rests on Il matrimonio segreto and the little intermezzo Il maestro di cappella. Incidentally Cimarosa was also invited to Catherine II’s court in St. Petersburg when Paisiello left. He stayed only four years, though. In their lifetimes all four were highly regarded, and it’s a valid question: why have Cimarosa and Paisiello survived? The choice here is naturally too narrow to provide an answer (one aria each), but both Alessandri’s (tr. 3) and Tritto’s (tr. 10) are well-wrought and appealing, responding suitably to the contents of the arias – more about that later.

Starting from the beginning of the disc we note at once that Divino Sospiro is an excellent ensemble, twenty players, young most of them according to the photo in the booklet. They look enthusiastic and the playing is springy and fresh in the orchestral introduction to the first aria – something that is confirmed in the overture from Demetrio (tr. 9). The soloist, counter-tenor Filippo Mineccia, has a big voice (or so it seems from what one hears). The tone is rounded, top notes are brilliant, though his lowest register seems a tad weak. In the second aria, from Catone in Utica, he sports a good trill and Paisiello spins a hummable tune. In the Alessandri aria that follows, Mineccia displays his coloratura technique, which is prodigious, and here his deep notes sit comfortably in a really wide-ranging aria. For me this is a highlight vocally and for the quality of the music itself.

Back to Paisiello and his Antigono we meet Demetrio who is about to die, and the music mirrors his feelings very well. This is followed by another highlight, the long aria from Alessandro. It opens with a long instrumental introduction, where the first bassoon is featured and when the vocal soloist comes in the bassoon remains in focus and there is a dialogue between them. In the second part of the aria the singer is required to sing a lot in the lowest register, which he does with aplomb. Even here there is a lot of florid singing. There are a couple of further arias, where Tu del popolo (tr. 8) has real “go”.

Giacomo Tritto’s contribution to the programme is an illustrative “storm aria” from Artenice. Oronteo sees the sky darken and hears the North wind awaken. He warns the skipper to come back to friendly shores – “or you shall run aground!” Here is clever tone-painting.

Among the material here are two arias (tr. 11 & 15) from his secular cantatas, mentioned above. Basically they could just as well have been included in some of his operas. Between those there are three excerpts from Demetrio, the earliest of his operas represented here. It was composed in 1771, only seven years after his debut opera, but in the catalogue of his operas it is listed as No. 25! In the recitative (tr. 12) Olinto, who has obviously let down his beloved, tries to defend himself, and I can’t resist quoting his words:

Alas, there is no faith
In love to be found. Everywhere
Much is said, but little is done.

If you can find someone
Who is faithful to their first lover
Without changing chains,
Then you can complain about me.

Such changing love and affection
Is the nice pleasure of a loving heart.
Indeed, without change
There is no pleasure.

Hm. Not exactly a morality. But the music is attractive.

It is perhaps a bit unfair to conclude a disc devoted primarily to the music of Paisiello with a scene from his rival Cimarosa’s Oreste. But this lively aria is a good one and the singing is impressive.

It doesn’t say anywhere that any of these arias are premiere recordings, which companies often put forward as a selling point. Be that as it may there is no standard fare here, and performed with such flair and commitment and with documentation to match, this should be a valuable addition to the collection of anyone with an interest in the byways of late 18th century Italian opera. The recording is also excellent.

G÷ran Forsling

Antigono (1785):
1. Aria Meglio Rifletti [4:09]
Catone in Utica (1789):
2. Aria So che pietÓ non hai [4:05]
Felice ALESSANDRI (1747 – 1798)
Artaserse (1783):
3. Aria Deh respirar [5:41]
Antigono (1785):
4. Recitativo Deh non opporti ... [0:27]
5. Aria GiÓ she morir degg’io [3:07]
Alessandro (1774):
6. Aria Destrier che all’armi usato [8:30]
La Pace 1799):
7. Aria Fiumicello che riceve [3:26]
Il Gran Cid (1775):
8. Aria Tu del popolo [3:02]
Demetrio (1771):
9. Ouverture [4:43]
Giacomo TRITTO (1733 – 1824)
Artenice (1784):
10. Aria Guarda s’imbruna [3:03]
Cantata Il ritorno di Perseo (1785):
11. Aria La tua fe’ (6:28)
Demetrio (1771):
12. Recitativo Eh che in amore [0:20]
13. Aria Trova un sol che sia costante [4:37]
14. Aria Di quell’ingiusto sdegno [5:07]
Cantata per San Gennaro (1785):
15. Aria Per me de’ mortali [5:02]
Domenico CIMAROSA (1750 – 1803)
Oreste (1783):
16. Recitativo Oreste, Eletta oh Dio! [0:56]
17. Aria Ah che in petto! [4:06]


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