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American Record Guide: (03-04/2016) 


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Reviewer: John W. Barker


Francesco Cavalli (1602-76) was the successor in so many ways to Claudio Monteverdi, and the first truly major Italian composer committed to opera—the greatest master of the Venetian school. Through recent stage revivals and recordings his operas have become more and more known and admired. He is documented as having composed 32 or 33 of them, and 8 more have been attributed to him to him on uncertain grounds. The scores for 5 of the authenticated opera have been lost, leaving 27, most of which have yet to be recorded in full.

This release developed as an adventure for the singer and director, joined in by the others. Its idea shifted from giving a selected sampling, according to the whims of the soloist, into representing all the surviving operas. (None of the doubtful ones are included.) Each opera is drawn on for at least one selection (mostly vocal), many for two or three. The excerpts are (with one exception) presented in chronological order of the operas’ premieres. These selections are generally brief: the longest one runs to 7:57, but that is unusual, and the overall average for the 40 selections would be about 2:45. That might suggest a run of quick impressions rather than of substantial segments. But the still-nascent Venetian operatic format, and Cavalli’s personal disposition, preferred brevity of passages and avoided prolonged “numbers”. In actuality, this survey is able to present a quite vivid picture of the range of Cavalli’s capacities for conveying moods and emotions—the latter often quite poignant or intense. Good examples would be such laments as ‘Volgi, deh volgi il piede’ from Gli Amori di Apollo e Dafne, ‘Re de’ Getuli altero’ from Didone, and ‘Lassa, che far degg’io?’ (one of several ciacona-based arias) from Giasone. At remarkable extremes are the incredibly sensual (almost pornographic) self-promotion by Venus in Le Nozze di Teti e Peleo and the fiery magic of Medea’s conjuring in Giasone. These, among so many other selections, really do show Cavalli as a prolific purveyor of

wide-ranging operatic expression in Venetian Baroque epigrammatic forms—one of the great early masters of opera. The soloist here, Mariana Flores, is an

excellent singer: her clear and flexible voice leans more to plangency than richness, but she can create various moods and characters with sensitive skill and conviction. She is partnered in a few items by the mezzo-soprano. Harpsichordist and organist Alarcon directs various groupings of nine instrumentalists, mostly serving as continuo. They are all admirable, and the sound is close and realistic. I have only two objections to this release. First, five of the selections—many the only ones representing the operas in question—are

given instrumentally, leaving out the voice and words and rather compromising the whole point of the venture. That problem might have been resolved by including more selections, to make sure that every opera was represented vocally. And the space was there to do just that: the first disc runs just slightly over an hour and the second one is a skimpy 49:21. Otherwise, much praise for this fascinating release. It comes with extensive notes (some by Cavalli expert Ellen Rosand) plus full texts and translations, all in a bound book-style album. It will offer much illumination and provocation if you would like to learn about

opera’s first century and one of its supreme masters.


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