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American Record Guide: (07/2017) 
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Reviewer: John W. Barker


Antonio Cesti (1623-69) belonged to the highwater generation of opera composers in the Venetian tradition and style. His operas were widely admired in their day, but Cesti’s reputation has slipped under the shadow of his elder contemporary, Cavalli, at least at present. Orontea was perhaps his most effective opera. It was composed for the Hapsburg Archduke of the Tyrol and first performed at Innsbruck in 1656. Its libretto is all too typical of Baroque theatrics. To recount its plot would take almost as long as listening the opera itself. Suffice it to say that it is about the amorous tetrangles and pentangles swirling around the court of the imaginary queen of Egypt, Orontea—who herself is about the most fatuous person involved. When the entangle-ments are worked out at the end, Orontea gets the rather opportunistic painter-king, Alidoro; Corindo gets Silandra; and Giacinta gets the boot. Cesti’s score is a model of transitional style.

That is to say, the later Neapolitan formula strictly distinguishing between recitative and aria had not yet become established, and the basic texture here is the earlier monodic style of flowing solo writing. That could easily result in solo monologs of considerable lyric beauty -Cesti was a fine tunesmith. Ensemble and choral sections still clung to an essentially madrigalian character. In addition, the dramatic structure was not a matter of the later choice between opera seria and opera buffa, but followed Venetian formulas combining elements of both serious and comic. The best example of the latter is the clowning character Galone, who is stumbling drunk much of the story and a real bumbler in general. Other Venetian figures abound: a travesty tenor as an old woman (Aristea), and a soldier (Tibrino) sung here bya soprano. Of course, the latter may have been a castrato role, as were Alidoro and Corindo (countertenors here). For all the distant conventions to accommodate, there is a lot of lovely listening in this score, and the cast here is admirable. Murrihy is a full-bodied title character and Adler is a contrasting ingenue, with strong work by Magiera as the hapless Giacinta. Bailey has a ball with the comic Galone. Of the countertenors, Sebata is a very lyrical Alidoro, Rexroth a more rough-hewn Corindo; the bass Geyer is an appropriately authoritative Creonte.

Bolton has by now established himself as a veteran exponent of Baroque opera and leads a flowing performance. The instrumentation seems to me a bit generous, and I wish some information could be given about the scoring choices in this performing edition. The recording was made at performances at the Frankfurt Opera in 2015, and the sonics are vivid. (From the booklet photos, though, I am glad this is not a video documentation of what looks like a rather wacky piece of regietheater.) The booklet gives German and English notes and synopses, with the full Italian libretto, but NO TRANSLATION.

There have been at least two earlier recordings of this opera, one led by René Jacobs for Harmonia Mundi (never reviewed). Alas, I no longer have that for comparison, but it is apparently deleted anyway. So it is good that this new one is satisfactory.


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