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Thursday, September 29, 2005

The Opera Rara Team

I just purchased two new opera recordings put out by Opera Rara, the UK-based label that has been promoting little-known or even unknown (to modern listeners) operas for thirty-five years. For those of you unfamiliar with them, it’s funded in part by the (Sir) Peter Moores Foundation and specializes in early nineteenth century operas. As they say on their Web site (www.opera-rara.com):

"Operas once threatened with extinction have now been brought vividly back to life through the Opera Rara recordings."

They perform a few operas every year in concert-form (i.e., not staged) in the greater London area, and then retreat to the recording studio to immortalize the work for those of us who can’t get to the performances. The O.R. staff does some incredible research to seek out the definitive version of each piece and, in many cases, actually includes in their CD sets such things as alternate endings or late revisions. Also, the thick booklets that accompany each set are libretto, historiography and art gallery all in one.

I own more than a dozen of their complete productions, plus a half-dozen or so samplers, compilations and recital CDs. Opera Rara employs many of the same singers from one work to another. Since they concentrate on bel canto pieces (Rossini and Donizetti are household names; Pacini, Mayr, Mercadante and the Italian repertoire of Meyerbeer far less so), the voices are generally appropriate in their fit. One exception is Jane Eaglen, who has lately made a name for herself as a Wagnerian wannabe soprano (not to mention her much-publicized obesity issues) and to me seems somewhat miscast in Mayr’s end-of-the-baroque-era “Medea in Corinto.”

A young Renee Fleming, terrific in Donizetti’s “Rosamunda d’Inghilterra,” is probably the most recognized name among the O.R. stable of singers. Others include the now-retired Nelly Miricioiu (a notoriously difficult singer to direct, so I’ve heard) and up-and-comer Elizabeth Futral. For the period in which O.R. concentrates, mezzos have much greater presence—whether in “trouser” roles, modern-day stand-ins for castrati, or “seconda donnas”—so we see singers like Jennifer Larmore, Della Jones and Diana Montague on their roster. Few of their male singers are all that well known, including Anthony Michaels-Moore (perhaps the most recognizable of the bunch), Alastair Miles and my favorite, tenor Bruce Ford.

At any rate, the newest additions to the Operablogger collection are “Elvida” and “Francesca de Foix.” These are one-act operas (on a single disk each, plus fulsome booklet) written in the 1830s for Naples. On their initial hearing, I found the former to be a bit contrived musically, but the latter very tuneful. I love the horn theme in “Francesca” that echoes throughout the piece, one that is also heard backing up the chorus on several occasions. I swear I’ve heard it before, and maybe I have—possibly on Opera Rara's “The Young Donizetti” CD from 2004 that I bought earlier this year. After a while, I forget what tune comes from which opera.

Coming later this year from O.R. are the following two complete operas: Donizetti’s “Pia de’ Tolemei” and Meyerbeer’s “Emma di Resburgo.” I can't wait!

Miricioiu hard to direct? I've heard the very opposite: that she is charming and gracious to her colleagues. Also, she has bookings into 2010, so hardly retired. Just last week (July 2009) she was singing Tosca at thr Royal Opera House, no less!
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