Classical CD Reviews

ROSSINI: Aureliano in Palmira – Soloists/ London Philharmonic Orch./ Maurizio Benini – Opera Rara (3 CDs)

This rare Rossini opera was his only one with a role for a castrato.

Published on November 24, 2012

ROSSINI: Aureliano in Palmira – Soloists/ London Philharmonic Orch./ Maurizio Benini – Opera Rara (3 CDs)

ROSSINI: Aureliano in Palmira – Kenneth Tarver (Aureliano), Catriona Smith (Zenobia), Silvia Tro Santafé (Arsace), Ezgi Kutlu (Publia), Andrew Foster-Williams (High Priest of Isis), Vuyani Mlinde (Licinio), Julian Alexander Smith (Oraspe), London Philharmonic Orch./ Maurizio Benini – Opera Rara ORC46 (3 CDs), 2 hrs. 50 mins. [10/9/12] [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ***:

Just in time for the 100th anniversary of its premiere at La Scala in Milan in 1813, comes a new studio recording of the production which in 2010 marked Opera Rara’s 40th anniversary, one of Rossini’s rarest scores, the dramma serio Aureliano in Palmira. Written during the composer’s miraculous 21st year when he produced Aureliano in Palmira and three more highly-regarded operas,  Il signor BruschinoL’italiana in Algeri, and the tragedy Tancredi, the opera is typical of Rossini who, like Handel and Bach, reused material so that what we know as the Barber of Seville Overture, for example, not only appears here in its entirety to open the proceedings, but reappears in a truncated, sort of early Italian leitmotiv way in the second act. Composed to open during carnival season starring the famed castrato, Giovanni Battista Velluti as Arsace, the bright and bushy-tailed opera provides a delectable tidbit of Rossini trivia: It turned out to be the only role that Rossini wrote for castrato.

Dramatically, it’s pretty lame but musically the glorious moments throughout, which the superb orchestra and an earnest, at times also glorious, cast sing and play with tremendous enthusiasm and brilliant stylistic virtuosity, more than compensate. The Act 1 duet between Zenobia and Arsace, Se la m’ami, o mia regina (“If you love me, oh my queen”), is a total treasure, as is their Act 2 duet, “Che barbara stella miro.” There is lots of coloratura work to be done by all the principals, of course, and lots of billing, cooing and martial strains from the orchestra.

The boxed set of 3 CDs includes a lavishly illustrated book with the complete libretto, an English translation by Jeremy Commons and a profoundly informative article and synopsis by the unfailingly entertaining Richard Osborne. The sound is first-rate, projecting the music as if it were being performed in a real space, allowing the singers to be heard no matter how complex the orchestral textures or loud the volume, and the solo instruments, particularly a splendid French horn in a tenor aria, sound the way solo instruments did in the great EMI recordings of 60s.

—Laurence Vittes

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