Cleofide Laura Claycomb
Poro Jennifer Larmore
Alessandro Bruce Ford
Gandarte Mark Wilde
Timagene Dean Robinson
Geoffrey Mitchell Choir
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: John T. Hughes
Reviewed: 19 November, 2006
Venue: The Coliseum, London
“There was some exquisite singing in that second act”: thus said a young lady on the way out of the Coliseum after hearing this rare Pacini opera. Actually, the first act had been pretty good too. During the previous week, Opera Rara had been recording the work.
1824 was the year of the première, at the San Carlo, Naples. Based on a libretto by Metastasio, “Alessandro nell’Indie” conforms generally to the recitative/aria/cabaletta pattern, with duets and other ensembles. It was possibly a delectable quintet in Act Two, ‘Resolver non oso’, which led to the young lady’s comment. A slow piece beginning with solo harp, it is certainly one of the highlights of the opera.
After Act One’s opening chorus came a long stretch of music for Cleofide, which sent Laura Claycomb soaring stratospherically in rippling roulades, top notes almost disembodied and ethereal. In both solos and ensembles she gave a winning display: elegant in long, slow phrases and dazzling in coloratura. Equally estimable was Jennifer Larmore, who has contributed winningly to Opera Rara issues over the years, She too possesses an agile voice, fleetly passing through Pacini’s divisions, as in the finale, when, Poro, Cleofide’s husband, praises the clemency of Alessandro (Alexander the Great). It is always a pleasure to hear two female voices singing well in duet, and Claycomb and Larmore combined attractively in florid sections but also blended smoothly in ‘Se cangiar potessi’, a slow ‘movement’ in their Act One scene.
Pacini’s opera has only five soloists, of whom two are secondary. Gandarte, Poro’s general, is heard mainly in recitative, while Timagene, friend of Alessandro, does join in the Act One finale (a quartet) but is not prominent. Mark Wilde and Dean Robinson fulfilled their task satisfactorily. A large burden falls on the main characters of whom the remaining one is Alessandro himself.
In love with Cleofide and an enemy of Poro, whom he has defeated in battle, Alessandro eventually withdraws, impressed by people he thought of as barbarians. As the eponymous warrior, Bruce Ford, another who has served Opera Rara well, showed yet again that he is a tenor who realises the importance of colouring the voice and varying his volume, and many were the moments when his stylish approach was appreciated, even if some of the former juice has left his tone.
David Parry, almost Opera Rara’s resident conductor, brought his experience in rare ottocento operas to bear and drew from the excellent LPO the full colours of Pacini’s varied orchestration, from rattling tambourine to that soothing harp. This orchestra must have played more ‘forgotten’ operas than any opera-house ensemble. The Geoffrey Mitchell Choir, with more to sing than has often been the case, was well up to the task, as one would expect. I often think when listening to a good performance of a bel canto work that the demise of the cabaletta damaged opera greatly, It’s nonsense, of course, but is, I suppose, a sort of compliment to the performers, like those whom I heard on this Sunday evening.
Opera Rara’s recording is due to be issued in September 2007, and next autumn the concert offering will be Bellini’s “La Straniera”. Meanwhile, though, Mark Elder will lead the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and a cast including Nicole Cabell, Frank Lopardo and Massimo Giordano in a performance of Donizetti’s “Imelda de’ Lambertazzi” at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on 10 March.