CAST: Thomas Michael Allen: Medonte, Juanita Lascarro: Selene, Susanne Bernhard: Arsace, Stephanie Elliott: Evandro, Lorina Castellano: Zelinda, Ulrike Andersen: Talete
L’arte del mondo
Werner Ehrhard, conductor
Deutsche Harmonia Mundi, 2012
It is probably because Joseph Mysliveček (1737-1781) was a conservative rather than an innovative composer that he has been forgotten after his death and that even now his works are considered of secondary importance, but he was an important personality in his lifetime. His opere serie influenced even the young Mozart, who composed Mitridate bearing in mind Mysliveček’s Nitteti and who turned to him as a model for other compositions. Moreover, Mysliveček was on good terms with Wolfgang and his father and his name was one of the most frequent in their correspondence, at least until their friendship deteriorated after the Czech composer failed to arrange a commission for the young Mozart at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples.
Medonte is Joseph Mysliveček’s last opera, based on a libretto by Giuseppe de Gamerra and highly influenced by Italian style. It premiered at the Teatro Argentina in Rome during Carnival 1780 with only male singers on stage as women were forbidden to sing in the theatres in Rome at that time. Female characters as Semele and Zelinda were therefore sung by castratos. Medonte was not a success, although its failure was not comparable to that of Armida, which was performed in Milan at the same time. Anyway, two failures one after another had severe consequences on the composer’s fate and Mysliveček died in misery and want one year later.
Medonte was rediscovered only in 1928 and it was attributed to Mozart at first. Its premiere in modern times did not take place before 1961, when the opera was performed in Opava, and it was later revived only in 2010 at the Bayer Kulturhaus, Leverkusen. It was on that occasion that the present recording was made.
This recording of Medonte can be considered positive under many but not every point of view as to a superb orchestra (L’arte del mondo), conducted by Werner Ehrhardt, does not correspond an equal perfection on the side of the singers.
L’arte del mondo plays wonderfully and its sound is very well recorded. The overture is a charming, lively piece and a kind of a surprise, considering the reception of Medonte at its premiere. Despite some passages do not seem so much inspired, this is overall an amazing piece that reveals a vein that easily reminds of Mozart’s early works. The rest of Medonte is actually less stunning than the overture and it offers tunes that seems already familiar to a lover of music of the so-called Classical period, but Ehrhardt and his orchestra work successfully to give the music the most flamboyant colours.
The cast, as I wrote before, is less fine, but Juanita Lascarro (Selene), Susanne Bernhard (Arsace), Stephanie Elliott (Evandro), Lorina Castellano (Zelinda) and Ulrike Andersen (Talete) are good singers with sound technique that make easy for them to face without too many hesitations the coloratura passages disseminated in their arias. Not all of them have a particularly precious timbre and some of them inspire coldness from this point of view (although this is always a matter of personal taste). Apart from this, the five female singers are not at all disappointing and invite to listen to the opera from the beginning to the end. If there is really a problem, this is tenor Thomas Michael Allen as Medonte, even if the title role curiously does not have many arias to sing. His intonation is not accurate, his agility is not always safe and his temperament is not among the most energetic, are features that make him really difficult to appreciate.
It is better to consider this recording of Mysliveček’s Medonte as an attempt to revive a forgotten opera rather than its definitive presentation as to many undeniable qualities correspond significant weaknesses, although the latter are not so unbearable to prevent a curious seeker of rare operas to enjoy this one.