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Paisiello's Passion Opera

Available at Amazon:
available at Amazon
Giovanni Paisiello, Passione di Gesù Cristo, I Barocchisti, Diego Fasolis
(released May 29, 2007)
Giovanni Paisiello's setting of the Passion, premiered in St. Petersburg in 1783, is a far cry from the Protestant ethos of Johann Sebastian Bach. Instead of the intensely personal introspection of Jesus and the redeemed soul, Paisiello took as his basis an oratorio libretto by Metastasio, created in 1730 for Caldara and set subsequently by Jommelli, Naumann, and others. There is no part representing Jesus or an evangelist's narration in this azione sacra. The four characters -- Peter, Mary Magdalen, John the Evangelist, and Joseph of Arimathea -- reflect with contrasting affects on the events of the Passion, which occur somewhere off stage, in the manner of opera seria. The Swiss Radio Chorus gives a solid performance as the all-knowing chorus, at times accusing the characters like heavenly messengers and at others in solidarity with the characters and all Christians.

The solo singing is generally fine, but emerging a head above is the potent and striking soprano Roberta Invernizzi (pictured), in the lead castrato role of Pietro. To my ears, she was the stand-out voice on the overall superb recording of Handel's Floridante last year, and she was exceptional in Vivaldi's Motezuma the year before that. Tenor Luca Dordolo had an incisive but shimmering tone as Giovanni, in line with what we have heard from him before in Monteverdi's Orfeo.

Roberta Invernizzi, soprano
The two lower solo voices, although strong, were darker in tone. The Maddalena, soprano Alla Simoni, heard by me for the first time in this recording, has a pithy, vibrato-heavy tone best combined with Invernizzi in the duet Vi sento, oh Dio, vi sento. The bass José Fardilha uses his voice too much as a bludgeon, distorting the sound away from luscious tone and true intonation at times. By comparison with the native Italian of Invernizzi and Dordolo, colors from other countries creep into their performances, too, Georgia for Simoni and Portugal for Fardilha.

This is the first release under review from Swiss period music group I Barocchisti and their conductor, Diego Fasolis. Indeed, the group made its U.S. debut at the Mostly Mozart Festival only this past August (reviewed in the New York Times). Their playing on this disc may not be a knockout, but it is solid and stylistically sensitive, with clear tone. Fasoli favors broad contrasts of dynamics and color, although his driving tempi lead to ragged ensemble at times. This disc falls under the category of pleasing curiosity, a well-performed voyage off the beaten path.

cpo 777 257-2


Garth Trinkl said...

Though I am no CD critic, I own and can strongly recommend the earlier version of this passion-oratorio which was recorded ten years ago by Wojciech Czepiel and the Warsaw Chamber Opera Chorus and Sinfonetta. (Sound clips are apparently available at Amazon.)

My recollection is that Paisiello spent a few years working in Warsaw after one of his trips to Saint Petersburg, and that that is one reason the excellent Warsaw Chamber Opera ensemble became an early proponent of recording Paisiello's sacred and operatic works. (In 1993, I saw the ensemble perform a superb production of Mozart's azione sacra, La Betulia liberata.)

Charles T. Downey said...

Thanks for that, Garth. I have not heard that recording, so I cannot recommend it, but it is a lot cheaper.