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Castellano; Romano, D'Apolito; Camerata Bach Choir, Pozna, Südwestdeutsches Kammerorchester Pforzheim, Spadano. Naxos 8.660331-32 (2)
Stefano Pavesi (1779–1850) is as forgotten as a popular composer can be, but in his long heyday (sixty-six operas, as many as four a year!), he went everywhere and knew everyone. He studied in Naples with Piccinni and Cimarosa and joined the French-backed revolt against the monarchy in 1799. This meant a quick departure when the king returned. He became the protégé and successor of Gazzaniga in Venice and of Salieri in Vienna. In 1826, he retired to Crema in Lombardy.
Pavesi's most popular comic piece was Ser Marcantonio of 1810 (the year of the teenage Rossini's first opera), whose plot will sound familiar: a foolish old bachelor wishes to marry; a friend suggests a candidate, one Bettina; the young lady "weds" the old man and soon makes mincemeat of him (without shedding blood). He is relieved to learn the marriage contract has been a hoax, and all ends happily. The situations are familiar, the melodies felicitous if rhythmically ordinary, and there are explosive concertati in the style Rossini would build upon. After Donizetti wrote Don Pasquale, Ser Marcantonio vanished from the stage until 2011, when Germany's Rossini in Wildbad Festival gave the performances that produced this recording, captured live in July of that year.
The merry score is a simple framework on which experienced comic performers can build as much fun as they like. The most remarkable thing about the piece, to the modern ear, may be the lack of a soprano. Like Rossini, Pavesi composed for companies with contralto or mezzo leading ladies, and their operas suffered a long eclipse when coloratura became scarce at lower ranges. (Do higher voices fill larger theaters better?) Loriana Castellano, the contralto Bettina, our minx of a heroine, sounds alluring and comically adept. Bettina's brother and co-conspirator Tobia (who's in love with the old man's niece) is sung by Matteo D'Apolito, whose bass-baritone possesses a variety of comic and romantic colors ideal for the sidelong jests and double-takes of opera buffa. Marco Filippo Romano sings the title character in a lighter baritone that does not impose caricatures of old age upon the music. The old man's nephew (Bettina's lover) and niece (Tobia's) are given here to less able singers, but they are not the focus of the action anyway. Massimo Spadano leads a lively performance that ably suggests why Pavesi held the stage for a generation.
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