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on 17 April 2011
This, the second of Meyerbeer's early Italian operas, is a great find, and the Naxos recording an excellent addition to the music of Meyerbeer available on CD. Though a live performance the sound is excellent with almost no distracting noise from the audience except applause. Considering how early a piece this is in the composer's creative life, the music is very mature, with great soprano arias and duets, extended ensembles and a few striking choruses at the beginning and end. Unlike the great French operas, there is little attempt to create a feel of the local colour and flavor of antique times (here ancient Babylon). Other than that, the music is charming and inventive, a delight, that demonstrates Meyerbeer's almost immediate adaptation to the Italian mode. The opera is an example of how operatic practice in Italy was adjusting to Rossini's revolution while mixing it with influences that clearly come from previous composers, including Mozart (with several engaging echoes of 'Così fan tutte' in the opening quartet and the cavatina that begins act 2). Meyerbeer, however, does not share Rossini's peculiar aesthetic where the same melody could be made to serve equally well in comedy and tragedy. This work is strongly recommended for anyone who enjoys bel canto opera and anyone who loves Meyerbeer in particular.
The two particular strengths of this recording are the skilled conducting of Richard Bonynge (he really brings to life this type of music--and interestingly here without stellar performers) and the enthusiasm with which the principals, chorus and orchestra enter into the proceedings. The whole performance holds together to provide very pleasant listening. The recording quality is good, and the price makes it a bargain as well as a treasure. Another recording of this opera on Dynamic appeared subsequently. The Dynamic performance is much better sung and provides a more complete version of the score than this Naxos edition, with all the extended recitatives intact. Naxos also does not include a libretto, or an English translation, in their brief accompanying booklet. But it does include a synopsis, so at least the convoluted classical drama of imposture and restitution can be followed in outline. But the sheer pleasure of the music and the enthusiasm of the performance carry all before them.
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