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R. Burgess (London UK)

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Sacchini - Oedipe à Colone
Sacchini - Oedipe à Colone
Price: £11.02

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Suspended judgment, 13 Oct 2006
Antonio Sacchini was for about ten years house composer to the Italian opera in London - at the King's Theatre, Haymarket during the 1770s. The aristocratic patrons of opera in London had conservative tastes which Sacchini did little to upset at a time of new thinking and reform. His dramatic style is broadly Gluckian, for example in its use of orchestrally accompanied recitative, but so far as one tell from this rare recording of one of his works lacks Gluck's fire and impetus. Everything passes by pleasantly and agreeably with elegant Italianate melody and sensitive harmony, but somehow it only fitfully takes off.
'Oedipus at Colonus,' an unusal choice of subject, was certainly much admired in its own day. It was not performed until after Sacchini's death at Paris in 1787, but then continued to be played for nearly half a century, attracting the favour of Berlioz among others. The present recording is taken from a semi-staged performance by Opera Lafayette of Washington, DC and is tastefully done with accomplished singers and orchestra among whom Francois Loup deploys a fine bass voice in the title-role. The recording lacks "body," the singers being set quite far back, and needs to be played at a high level. This lack of impact may account for the generally pallid impression that the work itself makes, but at Naxos' bargain basement price anybody interesting in exploring the byways of 18th century opera is not going to be seriously disappointed. I wish I could be more enthusiastic.

Gluck: Philémon & Baucis,  Les Feste d'Apollo
Gluck: Philémon & Baucis, Les Feste d'Apollo
Price: £18.74

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Festive Gluck revived, 1 Sep 2006
The Gluck revival continues with these extracts from his festival opera 'Le feste d'Apollo,' written to celebrate a royal wedding at the culturally advanced court of Parma and enjoying a sumptuous production with some of the finest singers of the day and with extensive ballet scenes. The new recording derives from live concert performances put on to aid research into rare medical conditions. It is correspondingly not quite as sumptuous as the original and disappointingly offers only cut versions of two of the three acts that made up "the feasts of Apollo" in 1769, omitting entirely the Prologue and the third part that was a one-act version of the well-known 'Orfeo,' the title role reworked for the soprano castrato Giuseppe Millico. He was at first aghast at the nature of the music he was being asked to sing, so different from the opera seria style with which he was familiar, but was won round and became a close personal friend of the composer, creating the role of Paris in 'Paride ed Elena' the next year and teaching singing to Gluck's beloved niece Nanette. (In Paris during the summer of 1774 Millico and Nanette gave a private run-through of the new French version of 'Orfeo' with Gluck himself accompanying on the harpsichord - what one would not give to have been present at such an occasion).

It would have been fascinating to have heard the soprano version of 'Orfeo,' but one must be grateful for what is offered here - attractive and completely unknown music in Gluck's pre-reform style: unknown for the most part, that is, as some of the music appears in other works. (A particular point of interest is that the 'Atto d'Aristeo' includes a full da capo version of the coloratura aria whose first section Gluck later added at the end of Act 1 of the French 'Orfeo').

The choir and orchestra of Les Talens Lyriques are ably led by Christophe Rousset with largely Scandinavian solo singers. Ditte Andersen acquits herself well in music written for the star soprano Lucrezia Agujari, whose ability at scaling stratospheric heights was noted by the Mozarts. The decorative nature of such music is a fair index of the whole enterprise, so different from the mature reform operas of Gluck for which he is best known - nor will the tepid plots of the two acts offered cause much excitement.

Those interested in Gluck's work need not hesitate to acquire this set, however, while they can. The finely crafted and agreeable music will appeal also to anyone who enjoys this kind of festive 18th century production - a royal command performance par excellence.

The Scarlet Tunic [DVD] [1998]
The Scarlet Tunic [DVD] [1998]
Dvd ~ Jean-Marc Barr
Price: £15.99

32 of 32 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Overblown Hardy, 5 July 2006
Several of Thomas Hardy's novels have been filmed in recent years, but here one of his short stories, 'The Melancholy Hussar of the German Legion' from the collection 'Wessex Tales,' has been expanded into a full-length feature film and given a snappier title. I saw the film on its cinema release in 1998 when it was taken off after only one week. It did not deserve such a fate, as it is well presented with generally good performances, especially from the two romantic leads, and the expected attractive Westcountry scenery. Jack Shepherd, best known as the Cornish TV policeman Wycliffe, is rather overparted as the heroine's father and Simon Callow gives a ludicrously over-the-top performance as the commanding officer, here a made-up character who scarcely figures at all in the original story: Callow gives him unpleasantly camp and Germanophobe overtones. But this is my only serious reservation and I find the invented melodramatic conclusion, substituting for Hardy's gentle close, fair enough in a film. The DVD has lots of the usual extras for movie buffs. For most people the main attraction will be the touching romance which is the heart of Hardy's tale

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