It’s obvious that during his lifetime, composer
Saverio Mercadante (1795-1870) was sidelined by
more famous opera composers in 19th Century Italy,
such as Giacomo Rossini, Vincenzo Bellini,
Gaetano Donizetti, and Giuseppe Verdi. After listening
to a wonderful recording of “Orazi e Curiazi,”
Mercadante’s last great triumph, I can’t help but wonder
about the fairness of his obscurity.
Following Bellini’s death in 1835 at the tender age of 33,
Mercadante was apparently the most important
composer in Italy. Rossini had stopped writing for the
stage in 1829. By this time, he was a resident of Paris
and Donizetti had also relocated there during 1838.
Mercadante completed 58 operas during his lifetime,
and left behind an unfinished score for his 59th work.
Even after becoming blind in 1862, he continued to
compose via dictation. While “Orazi e Curiazi” was
completed in 1846, his contemporaries considered it
to be the high point of his career. It summarized
the earlier 19th Century melodramatic style in opera,
and was superior in many ways to works
from the admittedly less mature Verdi, as of that time.
“Orazi e Curiazi” was set in Rome during 700 B.C.,
and concerned the fates of three brothers from two
different families, who have chosen to defend Rome
and Alba in battle. Given the style of this opera,
Mercadante’s use of the orchestra was quite effective,
and his vocal writing was filled with beautiful melodies
and ensembles that definitely gave Bellini and Donizetti
a run for their money.
Needless to say, major funding is required to bankroll
a project like this one, and we should again be grateful
to Peter Moore’s Foundation for making this recording
possible. To my ears, all of the singers provided
first-rate performances, and they were supported by
the topnotch Philharmonia Orchestra and the Geoffrey
Mitchell Choir, under the baton of David Parry.
The accompanying booklet contained an interesting
essay, a plot synopsis, photos, a timeline of this opera’s
performances, and a libretto. This was a first-class package.
Anytime I have an opportunity to hear an obscure opera
released by the Opera Rara label, I know that I’m in store
for a well-researched, topnotch recording. This three-CD
set, released in celebration of Mercadante’s bicentennial
is a perfect example of the quality I’ve come to expect
from this label. I highly recommend this recording,
particularly for fans of mid 19th Century Italian opera.