Michael Hofstetter

Cimarosa: Gli Orazi e i Curiazi

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Domenico Cimarosa, one of the most prominent composers of opera seria and opera buffa in the generation before Rossini, wrote almost 50 operas, but today his comedy Il matrimonio segreto is the only one to remain even on the fringes of the standard repertoire. Gli Orazi e i Curiazi, which Cimarosa set to an odd and inert libretto, tells a kind of Romeo and Juliet story in which two pairs of lovers are threatened because their countries are at war. When the victor returns from the conflict, having killed his sister's beloved, she accuses him of murder, so he stabs her to death and the crowds acclaim him as a hero. Cimarosa's music fits the Classical model to a T, and the forms, the harmonic structures, the orchestration, and the melodic patterns are Mozartian, but taken as a whole the opera would not be mistaken for Mozart. The gorgeous duet "Se torni vincitor" illustrates why. The lovers are about to be separated and the text gives voice to their confusion about their conflicting loyalties and their vacillating feelings of love and resentment and fear. The music, however, is unfailingly pleasant and rapturously beautiful -- it sounds entirely like a love duet. When Mozart was confronted with librettos with so much emotional complexity, he was able to write beautiful music that communicated the ambiguity of the characters' feelings. A more egregious example of Cimarosa's lack of dramatic sense is his handling of the climactic scene of Orazia's murder, which concludes the opera. It lasts less than four minutes, and involves so much cheerful music that, without following the libretto, it would be impossible to know that anything of consequence had occurred onstage. Musically, Cimarosa's opera is very attractive, but it's clear why it hasn't held the operatic stage. Michael Hofstetter leads the Chorus and Orchestra of the Ludwigsburger Schlossfestspiele in a lively and idiomatic performance. The soloists are never less than adequate, but the casting is uneven, and the spectacular singing and dramatic characterizations of soprano Kirsten Blaise and mezzo Anna Bonitatibus put them in an entirely different league from the rest of the soloists. The recording is taken from a live performance, and there are the standard stage sounds (which actually contribute to sense of the drama), but the sound quality is generally bright and deep.

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