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S. Davies, Hulcup; Nilon, Jeffery, Diffey, Dowling; Garsington Opera Orchestra and Chorus, Parry. Text and translation. Avie AV 2312 (3)
To celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of its founding, Garsington Opera presents a live recording of Rossini's Maometto Secondo, which had its British premiere at the 2013 summer festival. Excellent engineering of the institution's first commercial disc brings to vivid life the staged performance, with minimal noise and little intrusive applause.
Rossini's 1820 opera seria is a grand, epic piece, set in the 1470s during a Turkish–Venetian war, and offers superb display opportunities for a heroic-virtuoso bass (the sultan Mehmed II, briefly victorious), a heroic-virtuoso tenor (the Venetian general Paolo Erizzo, briefly imprisoned), a heroic-virtuoso mezzo-soprano en travesti (the Venetian nobleman Calbo) and a lyric-virtuoso soprano (Erizzo's daughter Anna, who rejects Calbo as a suitor because she's in love with a mysterious stranger). Rossini reworked Maometto Secondo, which included some avant-garde musical forms and exploited the preeminence of the San Carlo Opera orchestra, and presented it in Paris in 1826 as Le Siège de Corinthe.
Garsington's casting features Siân Davies as Anna, a long, demanding role that finds the American soprano coping unevenly with both the lyricism and the virtuosity. Many lovely moments (for example, a concentrated and intimate "Giusto ciel") are marred by a shrill top, in the same manner that marked her Elcia in New York City Opera's 2013 Mosè in Egitto. Lunging at high notes and lacking dynamic control in the upper register, Davies's puzzling performance shows dramatic commitment, amazingly accurate coloratura and good rhythmic sense. She can bring excitement to forceful phrases (the stretto "Dicesti assai, t'intendo") and still deliver a limpid, affecting "Madre a te" at the end of a long night. Some of Davies's best moments come in the duet with Maometto, the enemy of her family and country, who has turned out to be the stranger she fell in love with.
Bass-baritone Darren Jeffery infuses the title role with glamorous sound and exciting high notes, but he can barely cope with the coloratura or the low range. In spite of dramatic and thoughtful recitative singing that brings the role of the loving tyrant into sympathetic focus, Jeffery seems miscast.
Mezzo-soprano Caitlin Hulcup shows a light-textured but richly sonorous voice that handily encompasses the extensive range of Calbo, Anna's earnest but ineffective lover. Hulcup's heroic declamation and sharp rhythmic profile are put to good use, especially in the work's many ensembles. In the role of Erisso, tenor Paul Nilon stands out for his dramatic maturity and musical command. In addition to the low notes this very florid part demands, Nilon has a sturdy technique with stylish flexibility and well-judged variety of attack.
David Parry leads with a sure sense of style. A faster tempo might have helped Hulcup in her labored cabaletta repeat in the fiendish "Non temer, d'un basso affetto," and the ornamentation was not crafted to her strengths. But Parry paces the fascinating extended "terzettone" (big fat trio) masterfully and lets Hulcup, Davies and Nilon play rapturously with the phrases of the more tender trio "In questi estremi istanti."
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