Carl Heinrich Graun was court composer to Frederick the Great of Prussia, and this opera was chosen to open the new opera house in Berlin in 1742. It was a great success, but Handel's opera on the same subject had appeared less than two decades before, and had anyone been familiar with that one, Graun's might have come as a disappointment. Handel gets under his characters' skins–Cleopatra's eight arias tell us everything we have to know about her, for instance–while Graun (merely) offers some beautiful, well-orchestrated, at-times exciting music. Any composer would have been proud to compose Cesare's heart-stoppingly vengeful last-act aria "Voglio strage", and any Read more mezzo (or castrato or countertenor) would be happy to sing it. Here, Iris Vermillion is spectacular, and elsewhere in the opera she's as heroic, romantic, and colorful as our hero ought to be… Robert Levine
Two of the works on this CD follow the 4 movement Classical era format while the other two show the decided influence of the Italian overture. The Spanish royal court and wealthy noblemen imported a generation of Italian musicians including Domenico Scalatti, Gaetano Brunetti and Luigi Bocherini. These composers inspired the local talent, and this disc highlights the results.
This groundbreaking performance seems as if it is happening in real time. At its best, and seemingly counter-intuitively, opera is at its most effective when we don’t notice that the characters are singing: such is the case here. If you know this opera, then the third of the men’s trios in scene 1 (“Una bella serenata”) will seem very fast; hearing it with fresh ears, Jacobs’ breakneck tempo seems utterly natural—these guys have been worked up into a fun/competitive frenzy and can’t wait to get started on what they think will be a grand adventure. Similarly, the little quintet before the men depart (“Di scrivermi…”) is so slow that you feel the melodrama; if they are going to play, they are going to play thoroughly, making each word and situation count.
…It is great that this recording by Concerto Köln is available again. As far as I know it was the very first recording of any of Durante's concertos on disc, and although some concertos from the set have occasionally been played in concert - in particular No. 8 - Durante's music is still barely explored. It is hard to imagine a better performance than that by Concerto Köln…