accompaniments and half-speaking the text. So we have modern soloists spontaneously experimenting in front of an audience, with telling results: for once in Italian opera, the performers must listen hard to make the dialogue tell. Aided by over-the-top diction for the ‘moon men’— think Schoenberg crossed with Zoonie from Fireball XL5—their bold approach makes us sit up and listen, too.
Beyond Rodrigues, the capable cast work well together. Fernando Guimarães (as the false astronomer Ecclitico) is perhaps the best-known, having made a speciality of the title role in Monteverdi’s Orfeo, but João Pedro Cabral’s Ernesto equals his tenorial elasticity and surpasses him in freshness. As for the daughters, Susana Gaspar’s wiry soprano contrasts nicely with Carla Caramujo’s richer mezzo, while João Fernandes and Carla Simões do their best with the limited opportunities Avondano (or this abbreviated edition) offers to the lower orders. Given excellent notes and Naxos’s online Italian libretto, lunar antiquaries should definitely consider adding this to their cabinet of curiosities.
Betulia liberata, Mozart Sandrine Piau (Amital), Amanda Forsythe (Cabri/Carmi), Teresa Iervolino (Giuditta), Pablo Bemsch (Ozia), Nahuel Di Pierro (Achior), Accentus, Les Talens Lyriques, c. Christophe Rousset. Aparté AP 235 (two CDs) Oratorio or opera? Performed or not? Betulia liberata, commissioned by the music-loving Prince of Aragon when father and son Mozart made a stopover in Padua in 1771, was to become one of the mysteries among Wolfgang’s compositions. No evidence exists for a performance in Padua or anywhere else, although the great Mozart scholar Stanley Sadie was unconvinced that it was not given.
to encompass the heroic spirit of the work are the instances that convey the grace of the sentiment often eloquently expressed in Metastasio’s text, this in a manner that would seem beyond a composer of such tender years. Would it be stageworthy today? Probably not, given the static nature of so much of the work, but it should certainly be performed more often than it is.
Described as an azione sacra (sacred drama), Betulia liberata belongs to that awkward genre of works that is strictly neither opera nor oratorio. Metastasio’s frequently set libretto narrates the story from the Apocrypha of the decapitation of the Assyrian general Holofernes by the beautiful Jewish widow Judith, an action that led to the liberation of the city of Bethulia. Unlike Vivaldi’s Juditha triumphans the entire action is set in Bethulia and the bloody slaying of Holofernes (who makes no appearance) is related by Giuditta in a long accompagnato that marks a key moment in Mozart’s rapid development as a dramatic composer. But perhaps more notable still than the ability
It is difficult to imagine a more compelling performance than that given here by Christophe Rousset, which is throughout vividly alive and indeed frequently electrifying without ever losing sight of the lyrical beauty that pervades much of the score. Every bar speaks of Rousset’s total belief in and love for the music, in which he is aided by superlative orchestral playing and an exceptional cast inspired to live every moment of not only the arias but equally the long stretches of plain recitative, projected with gripping immediacy. Arias are mostly in da capo form and not infrequently demanding. That applies particularly to the big arias for the Bethulian leader Ozia, placed
Opera, May 2021