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Myslivecek: Medonte


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Product Description

DHM 88697861242; DEUTSCHE HARMONIA MUNDI - Germania; Classica Lirica

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Amazon.com: HASH(0x9da16bac) out of 5 stars 3 reviews
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9da39ce4) out of 5 stars A Divine Bohemian Composer 22 April 2013
By Caveat Auditor - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
Josef Myslivecek (1737 -1781)

Medonte (1780 - 1st Performance in Rome, 1781)

Thomas Michael Allen, tenor; Medonte
Juanita Lascarro, soprano; Selene (castrato)
Susanne Bernhard, soprano; Arsace (castrato)
Stephanie Elliott, soprano; Evandro(castrato)
Lorina Castellano soprano; Zelinda
Ulrike Andersen, mezzo soprano; Talete

L'arte Del Mondo; Werner Ernhard, dir.

THE MUSIC
The original cast of "Medonte" was all-male, since a papal prohibition against female singers was in force until 1800. After its flop in 1781, both the opera and Myslivecek completely disappeared from the radar until the 20th century. An incomplete copy of "Medonte" was discovered in St. Petersburg in 1961, but it was not until very recently that a complete score was discovered in Paris, leading to the first complete performance in 230 years, as captured in this live recording. It is hard to avoid comparing "Medonte" to Mozart's output. Partially due to their friendship and acknowledged compositional similarities, but also because Mozart is the highest standard to which another composer from the classical era can be held to. Not all of Mozart's output is brilliant - "La Clemenza di Tito" is a prime example of a lousy Mozart opera from his late period, with the exception of "Parto, parto ma tu ben mio" and "Non piu di fiori" with their basset horn obbligato, which is brilliant and probably served as the only inspiration Mozart had in the entire opera - but in general, few can be compared to him in terms of quality and style. "Medonte" is a far more interesting opera to listen to in my book than "La Clemenza di Tito,"

The overture is a splendid example of high-clacissist elan and shows that generally, Myslivecek was slightly ahead of J.C. Bach stylistically. The first aria, "Deh, s'affretti astri tiranni" for Arsace is a splendid opening accompagnato with a slow arioso section, followed by an allegro which, with a singer of the caliber of Suzanne Bernhard, immediately draws the listener into the music. Few composers apart from Mozart and Gluck could be said to be able to do the same. It is immediately clear that we're dealing with state-of-the-art bravura classicism with scoring that fully utilizes a string orchestra with a Mozartean complement of wind instruments.

Arsace's "Parlar vorrei ma favellar non so" is a bravura tour de force, which, interestingly, uses motifs from the overture. To my knowledge, this didn't become common practice until after Mozart's late operas, so it is interesting to hear a germ of this practice in this aria. Even though the aria is written for a castrato, there are stylistic elements between it and Donna Anna's "Ah, chi mi dice mai" in terms of the vocal force demanded from the singer.

Selene's first aria "Presso al amata bene" starts with languid strings before picking up and has nice touches of chromaticism in the violins. Of all the arias in Act I it is perhaps the most "Mozartean" in style, sophistication of instrumentation and vocal writing. Myslivecek's compositional style shows an uncanny ability to shift between major and minor passages as unexpectedly as Mozart, as well as to transition between moments of high drama and laid-back lyricism that also characterize Mozart's output.

Act I, Scene VII with accompanied recitatives for Arsace and Selene, ending in a gorgeous duet shows that in spite of Myslivecek's ostensible rejection of Gluck's reforms, he can compose in a style that beats Gluck's pants if not all the way off, then at least down to his knees. The duo ends with a delicious stretto, which is so thoroughly Mozartean that it is perfectly understandable that Myslivecek's music was at times confused with Mozart's when he was rediscovered.

Act II opens with an aria for Talete scored for two trumpets for added festivity. It is another aria which is basically in allegro assai tempo, but which has those unexpected switches in tempo and key that Myslivecek is so obviously capable of using to full dramatic effect. The part for the lower voice is more lyrical than for the higher tessitura roles, but the orchestra fully makes up for that through its vigorous accompaniment.

Zelinda's "Ubbidiro, ma intante" has just about everything you can expect in terms of excitement, including "Mozart syncopations" 2 ½ octave leaps for the singer as well as possessing great drama. Lorina Castellano delivers this aria perfectly and with great aplomb.

It is interesting that in "Serbo costante il core" Thomas Michael Allen is able to sing like a completely different person from what he showed in Act I. He suddenly acquires a squillo, a directness in hitting the high notes and a dramatic delivery, which he completely lacked in his aria in Act I. What can I say? Maybe he was nervous in Act I. Regardless, it was a very pleasant surprise to hear him singing like this.

Selene's Recitativo and Aria in Scene VII are a yet another masterful example of how Myslivecek could use a Gluckian scene in an opera which still uses secco recitatives. If anything, it makes this extended "scena" even more effective because it is so extensive and varied in tempo and mood. Sources which say that Mysliveèek completely rejected Gluck's reform opera ideas will need to be thoroughly reevaluated in light of this recording. Once again, Juanita Lascarro is absolutely superb in her execution of this extensive and demanding scene. In this recording, she always leaves you wanting more when her arias are finished.

The Scena between Selene and Arsace, followed by a Rondo for Arsace again use splendid recitativo accompagnato followed by an aria. It made me sit up somewhat that I could hear more than one turn in the style of J.C. Bach in the music. Obviously Myslivecek listened to the work of other composers, or, equally plausibly, other composers like J.C. Bach, picked up on his style. It's a cosi fan tutte moment, since the two composers were only two years apart, whereas a generation separated Myslivecek from Mozart. Regardless, the Scena and Rondo are a joy to listen to.

The next great aria belongs to Evandro, i.e., Stephanie Elliott, who sings the fast-slow-fast sturm und drang aria very well. Alas, poor Evandro only gets two arias in the entire opera, so I am thankful that a singer of Ms. Elliott's qualities was found for this part.

By the time the terzetto in the last scene of Act II rolls around, one begins to understand why "Medonte" wasn't a huge success in its time. Myslivecek's music is simply overwhelming in its fast tempi and drama and leaves the average listener bowled over. Mozart would suffer from his compositional skills in the same way - there is just no time for having dinner and chatting with friends while playing cards in your box as people back then were wont to do. Myslivecek's music must have been terribly distracting for audiences of his era. Perhaps it is one of those cases where a composer wishes to pour the very essence of his creativity out in brilliant flash before his impending death. Surely Myslivecek knew that his time was short when he was writing "Medonte" and that his credit cards were overdrawn. If this is his testament to us, like Mozart's Magic Flute or Schubert's String Quintet, then he succeeds. For by the time Medonte's "E ancora t'arresti incerto" in Act III rolls around one feels like the effects of a dose of speed are starting to set in.

One must therefore bless the composer for inserting two arias, the first in a slow tempo, which enables one to come up for air, for Arsace - incorporating some beautifully effective writing for two horns - the second for Selene, which at least starts out slowly before we are thrown into the presto cooker again. A few recitatives and a festive chorus with a surprisingly rustic interlude, ends the opera.

THE MUSICIANS
Thomas Michael Allen's heroic tenor voice (classical era style) unfortunately sounds rather flat and lacking in resonance in his first aria, and his passaggi are shaky, as if every fast semiquaver note was produced by a spasm of his abdomen, a painful technique one would surmise. As someone recently reminded me, the quality needed to sing a role such as this is "sprezzatura" which roughly translates to unforced elegance in the language of vocal shopkeepers. He sings in tune well enough but just doesn't do a great job of it. Fortunately, beginning with his second aria "Perche le luci d'alzarmi" in Act II he starts singing splendidly, with plenty of sprezzaturic aplomb and heroic force. His coach must have given him a good pep talk during half-time.

Juanita Lascarro sounds lovely as Selene, a role which was obviously created for a castrato with a tessitura up to a high D. She traverses the bravura passages of her role with elegance, which is an admirable achievement, since Selene has some of the most difficult singing of the entire cast. She deserves a star on her door, since her delivery is the finest among this cast.

Suzanne Bernhard has a fine lyric soprano voice, with a nice dark timbre in the lower register, perfect for the role of Arsace, since it is written for a low castrato with the ability to soar into the higher registers. She deserves to have a star on her dressing room as much as Juanita Lascarro for her incredible vocal agility and power.

Stephanie Elliott's soprano voice has a fine, bright spinto character and she soars from chest voice to the highest ranges required by the role with effortless ease. Lorina Castellano is another dark-hued (in tone, obviously) soprano which suits her originally castrated role perfectly. In her all too few appearances, Ulrike Andersen has a nice, rich mezzo voice which one would wish to hear more of in the future.

L'arte Del Mondo under Werner Ernhard are a model of perfection for anyone performing classical era orchestral music on period instruments. Bravi to all of them.

THE RECORDING
The producer and recording engineers have shown pure genius in registering this live performance. One hardly notices that it is a live performance at all, except for the fact that one senses that some of the singers are slightly nervous in the beginning, but that they settle down and do a great job in the rest of the opera. The sound is clear and bright, resonant, and all the orchestral nuances are captured to perfection. Great job, Deutsche Harmonia Mundi! Keep the Myslivecek, or whatever else that's as interesting and well-performed, coming.

For a live recording, it is very easy to give it five thumbs up, since it is exciting to listen to and a joy to discover new music performed and recorded this well.

THE COMPOSER
It was once said that the Italians called Myslivecek "Il Divino Boemo" when he was at the peak of his career. This myth has since been disproved, as it seems that his nickname was "Il Boemo" or just "Venatorino," i.e., "little hunter" since that is the literal meaning of the diminutive form of the Czech word "myslivec," meaning "hunter." Czech-born composers were a dime a dozen in Austria and a quarter a dozen in the German principalities, but in Italia they were not sei cento e quaranta; no foreign, let alone a Czech, opera composer was ever able to establish a career like Myslivecek's while alive, though many fine composers studied their trade there, including Handel, J.C. Bach and Mozart. Gluck and Mozart had their operas performed in Italy, and Mozart eventually became one of the few foreign standards, but that was long after his death.

Josef Myslivecek was born in Prague, one of a pair (presumably) of twins who were sons of a prosperous mill owner, and studied philosophy at Charles-Ferdinand University before following in the footsteps of his father. He achieved the rank of master miller himself in 1761, but decided to grind out music instead, a more risky but also potentially more lucrative business, and one where one avoided an early death from flour lung (that was a miller's professional hazard, just like coal lung was for miners). After studying composition for a couple of years in Prague, his ambitions led him to travel to Venice in 1763 for ongoing studies. His travel to Italy was subsidized in part from family wealth, in part from the Bohemian nobleman Vincenz von Waldstein. His rise in Italy became meteoric within just a few years of his arrival.

Myslivecek achieved his first great operatic success in 1767 with Il Bellerofonte at the Teatro S Carlo in Naples. Afterwards, Myslivecek lived mainly in Italy, where he travelled continually in order to fulfil operatic commissions, almost always at major houses with excellent casts. Myslivecek prized freedom of movement and was never employed directly by any noble, prelate, or ruler, unlike most of his contemporaries, most notably Mozart. He earned his living through teaching, performing, and composing music, and frequently received gratuities from wealthy admirers. In 1771 he was admitted into the Accademia Filarmonica of Bologna after befriending Padre Martini.

Proof of the spread of his fame is shown by the fact that the Portuguese court had copies made of his operas in Naples and Genoa for the collection at the Ajuda library and for performances of his works in Lisbon. These were copyist copies commissioned by the Court, not printed editions. With a total of 18 different titles, the library possesses the largest collection of his operatic scores to this day.

A return trip north of the Alps, in 1772, intended to establish his reputation in Vienna was one of his few unsuccessful ventures during these years. But it is a well-documented fact that the Viennese are snobs, and back then, a non-Italian opera composer would not do in Vienna even if he did do in Italy. Sadly, Mozart would learn this first-hand when he tried to establish himself there. In spite of early successes he, too, flopped and to add insult to injury, he had the misfortune of not being able to return to Italy and admiring Italian audiences. Alas, the first serious signs of his venereal disease began to appear in 1775 and Myslivecek's health was in decline from that point on.

Myslivecek ventured north for the last time in 1777-8. While in Munich, he witnessed successful productions of his opera Ezio and his oratorio Abramo ed Isacco. Over the years of his successes, he had acquired quite a reputation as a ladies' man, and unlike Casanova, who wisely protected himself using a sheepskin condom with a red ribbon to tighten it, Myslivecek apparently preferred to ride his fillies bareback. As a predictable result he contracted venereal disease. While in Munich he sought "surgical treatment" for his ailment, with the result that his nose was burnt off. One wonders if the "surgeon" somehow mistook one appendage for another, just like they sometimes amputate the wrong leg or remove the wrong kidney today.

On his return to Italy in 1778, Myslivecek enjoyed his last operatic successes in Naples and Venice, but he seems to have lost his nose for writing catchy tunes. His final decline was signalled by the failure of both of the operas that he prepared for Carnival 1780 (Armida for Milan and Medonte for Rome). Having been a spendthrift his entire professional life (what can one expect when surmising how many chicks he kept), he died in Rome, in abject poverty; his funeral at the church of S Lorenzo in Lucina was paid for by an otherwise unknown Englishman whose first name Barry being all that we know (it is highly unlikely his last name was Lyndon), a former pupil.

The one genre upon which Myslivecek's fortunes will always rest is "unreformed" opera seria, in that he generally eschewed Gluck's abolitionist ideas about florid vocal runs and secco recitatives. He wrote twenty-six serious operas over the span of nearly his entire professional career (1765-80) and during this period he was the most prolific composer of opera seria in Europe. They can rougly be divided into three periods: the 1767-73 works that established his reputation, the 1773-77 works that were written for more accomplished singers and that included more innovative aria forms, and the 1778-80 late works which generally feature even more elaborate sections of accompanied recitative and many arias of the slow-fast rondò type, in which he excelled. Myslivecek conducted a performance of Gluck's "Orfeo ed Euridice" in Italy in 1773 and the ending of Act I of "Medonte" shows that he was quite capable of following, if not surpassing, Gluck's style.

Myslivecek was by no means an "operas only" composer. His violin concerti are some of the finest prior to those written by Mozart, and he in fact wrote some of the first string quintets with two violas, publishing VI Sinfonie concertanti o sia quintetti per due violini, due viole, e basso, Op. 2, around 1767. It is far from unlikely that Mozart, returning from Milan in 1773, had written the first of his Quintets in B flat K. 174 after having seen the scores of Mysliveèek's quintets. Another genre which Il Boemo devoted himself to was the concert aria, by no means a "normal" genre during his lifetime. One of them is distinguished by being one of the very few pieces ever written in D sharp major, "Dis-dur" in German. Now, as everyone knows, D sharp major is enharmonic with E flat major, so what was the man thinking? Those who have read Dante know that the salient feature of the 5th circle of hell is the city of Dis. The aria in question is about 10 minutes long and hellishly difficult for the soprano and horn solos. No doubt Myslivecek's contemporaries got the joke.
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For Myslivecek and Mozart, see Comments.
HASH(0x9da3e960) out of 5 stars Great Composer Discovered 7 July 2016
By NYLUX - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
What I loved the most about this opera is the music, which is truly quality and inspired, and very much understand after hearing it how much Mozart borrowed from this composer who deserves to be known better.
The voices are appropriate but not stellar. Thomas Allen as Medonte sounds to me like the type of melodious and agile voice that nevertheless lacks strength to fill an opera house today. This is one of the biggest problems in recording early, baroque and even classical works such as this one: Usually the singers that end up making the recordings are just appropriate, never really exciting when in fact we would need the opposite to really give the works a merited revival. Opera after all is all about the voices. Listen to Monserrat Caballé singing the great aria from Vivaldi's "Bajaceto" and you'll understand exactly what I mean by this. And of more recent date, Natalie Dessay in Handel's Giulio Cesare.
I also don't understand why with so many talented countertenors out there, all the castrato roles are sung by women, none of which I found particularly exciting and that's why I am rating it with four rather than five stars as the orchestra sounds wonderful and the music is great.
2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
By Michael Iscenko - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
I was waiting for this to be released for quite some time. Clear crisp sound and excellent performance on period instrument. This opera from 1780 was belived to have been written by Mozart until modern scholarship proved otherwise.
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