"Arias and Overtures from Florence to Paris"
Schiavo; Auser Musici, Ipata. Texts and translations. Hyperion CDA 67893
Maria Callas carved a place for Cherubini's Medea in the opera repertoire (she sang it in a half-dozen cities, including performances at La Scala conducted by Leonard Bernstein), and Riccardo Muti has been a great advocate for Cherubini's Requiem. But on the whole Cherubini has been honored more for his influence on Beethoven, particularly on Leonore and Fidelio, than for his music itself. Thus this recording, which offers excerpts from six operas, plus a big concert scena, is welcome. There are four instrumental numbers, and soprano Maria Grazia Schiavo sings five big arias. There is less variety than there might have been, however, partly because the operas represented are all from the earliest third of the composer's stage career and partly because the vocal selections are all within the limited range of expression and coloration available to Schiavo's voice. These are cheerful arias, sung in a cheerful tone. Schiavo may be singing about the pangs of love, or of troubled thoughts that are frightened and confused, but the coloration by nature is relentlessly chipper, in the manner of Heidi Grant Murphy or Danielle de Niese. Schiavo doubtless was wise to stay within the parameters of her voice, but too much of this music is in the bright keys of D major and A major, and the overall effect is ultimately wearying.
Still, there is certainly value in hearing this music. There is a phrase in "D'un dolce ardor la face," an insertion aria for use in Salieri's La Grotta di Trofonio (1790), that seems directly lifted from Mozart's Die Entführung aus dem Serail of 1782. Going the other direction, the overture to Démophon (1788), with its welcome burst of stormy C minor, would soon be poached for Beethoven's Egmont and Coriolan. The period-instrument group Auser Musici, under the direction of Carlos Ipata, plays with enthusiasm. But the recorded sonics are bizarre. This is surely the most hypercompartmentalized use of stereo placement since the brief vogue for quadraphonic sound. It would be possible to draw a seating chart for each orchestral player, and given Cherubini's frequent use of little woodwind interjections, we are given the effect of an odd imitation of an amplified Broadway pit orchestra.
WILLIAM R. BRAUN
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