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Johann David HEINICHEN (1683-1729)
Flavio Crispo – opera in three acts
Leandro Marziotte (countertenor) - Flavio Crispo
Dana Marbach (soprano) - Elena
Alessandra Visentin (alto) - Fausta
Silke Gäng (alto) - Imilee
Nina Bernsteiner (soprano) - Gilimero
Tobias Hunger (tenor) - Massiminiano
Ismael Arróniz (bass) - Costantino
Il Gusto Barocco/Jörg Halubek
rec. 2016, Konzertsaal Musikhochschule, Stuttgart, Germany
CPO 555 111-2 [3 CDs: 197:08]

For many people, myself included, their introduction to the music of Johann David Heinichen came in the shape of the 1993 Gramophone Award winning disc of the Dresden Concerti by Musica Antiqua Köln and Reinhard Goebel (437 549-2). However, since then I have investigated further, especially his religious music through many fine Carus and Capriccio recordings, as well as some instrumental music, all of which has shown a great deal of versatility and originality.

Heinichen was born in the small German village of Crössuln, the son of the local pastor; he followed his father in studying music at the famous Thomasschule in Leipzig before going on to study law at the University of Leipzig, going on after graduation to practice law in Weissenfels until 1709, when he gave up law completely and moved to Leipzig to write for the opera house there. The following year he moved to Venice in order to learn the Italian style of opera composition, here he met many composers including Vivaldi. It was in Venice that he met the Prince Elector of Saxony, a meeting that would lead to a position as kapellmeister in the Dresden Royal Court, which he would hold until his death.

His fame was mainly based on his religious music, but he was successful in most genres; however, his opera Flavio Crispo (which revolves around the Roman Tetrarchy and its political machinations, in particular the life of Flavius Julius Crispus) was never performed. It is suggested in the booklet that the lack of a performance was due to a kind of prank played by the star castrato Senesino, who tore up the music of an aria and threw it at the feet of Heinichen, complaining that the music was “committing an error against the words”, this led to the cancellation of the opera and the singer’s ultimate dismissal. However, it could be that Senesino and Berselli were engineering their dismissal so that they could travel to London in order to work for Handel, who had tried to engage them but had failed due to their contractual demands. Despite the claims of Senesino and Berselli, Heinichen’s Flavio Crispo can be seen to follow the traditions of the form of Venetian opera brought to Dresden by Antonio Lotti, although Heinichen’s orchestration is richer and more colourful, especially in the way that he employs flutes and horns. What is known, is that after the cancellation of Flavio Crispo, Heinichen never composed another opera, which, listening to this is a shame.

The main action revolves around the emperor Constantino, Flavio Crispo, his son by his first wife, Elena, an English princess, who Crispo loves, Fausta who is Constantino’s present wife and who is in love with Crispo, Imilee who is the daughter of the East Franconian king, who is also in love with Crispo, Gilimero a military commander who is the friend and confidante of Crispo who is in love with Imilee, and Fausta’s brother Massiminiano, who is in love with Elena and is seeking to depose Constantino and become emperor himself. This, as can be imagined leads to various and complex scenarios.

The instrumental music certainly has the air of the Dresden Concerti at times, with the Sinfonia and Act 1 Ballo being more colourful than operas staged in Dresden at this time, and it is played superbly by Il Gusto Barocco. The singers are called upon to add colour to the text, something they do superbly with their characterful and nuanced performances, with Leandro Marziotte leading the way in the title role. From his first aria ‘Il dolce mio servaggio’ the quality of his voice shines forth, it is well-figured with beautiful voice and tone control, which is something he carries through until the end of the opera, with his Act 3 Duetto with Dana Marbach (Elena) ‘Questo sguardo’, being a particular highlight. Dana Marbach is equally beautiful as Crispo’s love interest and contributes greatly to this well-balanced partnership, whilst Tobias Hunger is extremely well cast as the villain of the piece, Massiminiano, as he adds the air of menace with ease (my only gripe being that in the libretto his name appears differently as Massenzio), with his contribution to Act 2 Scene 4 being magnificent. I could pick highlights for each of the soloists in this truly ensemble cast, with each of them making a significant contribution to the action and the story, but I will restrict myself to the tutti sections of the opera, here there seems to be a real affinity between the artists, with the culminating Act 3 Aria and Chorus ‘Di procelle, e d'ombra a scorno’, being a fine example of this.

This production has been expertly edited, with parts of the original text being removed completely; however, the action flows well and there is no loss in the dramatic flow of the work. Rather, this is a wonderful production which deserves to do for Heinichen and his music what Goebel’s recording of the Dresden Concerti did back in 1993. It comes with a 104-page booklet that not only discusses the life of Heinichen, but also sets out the history behind the work and its controversial cancellation. A full and detailed synopsis is given along with the full libretto which details the cuts. The booklet text is in German and English with the libretto in the original Italian as well as German and English.

Stuart Sillitoe

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