Bejun Mehta: "Che Puro Ciel: The Rise of Classical Opera"
Arias by J. C. Bach, Gluck, Hasse, Mozart and Traetta. RIAS Chamber Choir, Akademie für alte Musik, Jacobs. Texts and translations. Harmonia Mundi 902133
Countertenor Bejun Mehta records actively, and the new collaboration with René Jacobs is highly worthwhile. Mehta provides some beautiful and insightful singing, and Jacobs leads a considerate and lively accompaniment with the excellent Akademie für alte Musik.
There's an educational aspect to the selection of mid-eighteenth-century numbers that trace the development of musico-theatrical space and presentation from pure opera seriathrough the reforms — toward greater naturalism and blend of music, words and movement — of Gluck and the Apulian-born (and widely traveled) Tommaso Traetta (1727–79). The program includes accompanied recitatives, which became a key tool for Johann Christian Bach and Mozart in framing arias. Here, we hear a bravura da capo aria from the younger Bach's 1760 Artaserse, which seems to point forward to Idomeneo. Mozart himself is represented by the Act III aria of Farnace in Mitridate, Re di Ponto (1770), one of Mehta's great triumphs in Salzburg and Vienna, and the rarely recorded but fine "Cara, lontano ancora," from the pastorale Ascanio in Alba.
The title cut — Gluck's Orfeo, rapturously responding to his entrance into the Elysian Fields — proves the only less-than-compelling performance on the disc. Mehta isn't bad, but this particular part of the role doesn't match his best tessitura, and his scale sounds less even than in the rest of the program. Jacobs includes the subsequent blissed-out chorus number. The RIAS Chamber Choir plays a much more interesting role as the vindictive Furies in a scene from Traetta's 1763 Ifigenia in Tauride, with Mehta as Oreste. Here as elsewhere, his variety of attack, musical phrasing and precision in dynamics compel admiration.
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