Nicola Porpora – Germanico in Germania
CAST: Germanico: Max Emanuel Cencic; Arminio: Mary-Ellen Nesi; Rosmonda: Dilyara Idrisova; Cecina: Hasnaa Bennani; Ersinda: Julia Lezhneva; Segeste: Juan Sancho
on period instruments
Jan Tomasz Adamus, conductor
Nicola Porpora and Germanico in Germania
More than as a composer, Nicola Porpora is remembered for being one of the most severe vocal teachers in the history of music. His pupils’ daily routine was rigidly fixed, with practical exercises in the morning and theoretical study in the afternoon. Castratos singers Gaetano Majorano (known as Caffarelli) and Carlo Broschi (Farinelli) were among his most famous pupils and it is reported that Porpora obliged Caffarelli to study one single page for six years.
Porpora’s operas give an idea of the zeal he expected as a teacher. Germanico in Germania has many highly virtuosic arias which necessitate the most sound technique. Not by chance, it was Porpora’s pupil Caffarelli who created the role of Arminio at the premiere, which took place in Rome in February 1732. The equally famous castrato Domenico Annibali sang the title role, while young male singers performed the female roles, as it was customary at that time.
Germanico in Germania: the Cast
It is enough to have a quick look at the cast to realize that the singers are specialists of the Baroque repertoire. First of all, there is Max Emanuel Cencic in the title role and is presence here is not so surprising considering that, his solo recording of Porpora’s arias has been released shortly after Germanico in Germania, to mark the 250th anniversary of the Neapolitan composer’s death.
Then there is Julia Lezhneva (Ersinda), who now records a forgotten opera after her album dedicated to a forgotten composer, Carl Heinrich Graun. Hasnaa Bennani is another name which is well-known to Baroque music lovers thanks to her amazing album Arie per la Cuzzoni. For her part, Mary-Ellen Nesi has to her credit several recordings of Handel’s operas. Finally, Juan Sancho and Dilyara Idrisova were cast in Pergolesi’s Adriano in Siria in a recording conducted again by Jan Tomasz Adamus and with the Capella Cracoviensis.
Germanico in Germania: the Performance
Overall, this recording is successful. The cast is mostly composed by excellent singers who perform Porpora’s demanding music with stylishness and skill.
Max Emanuel Cencic (Germanico)
Max Emanuel Cencic sings Germanico in a way that favours the lyrical side of the character. His voice is not the most beautiful in quality because of its vibrato. However, his virtuosity, precision and elegance make you forget immediately that flaw. He has a voice great power, extraordinary range and flexibility and its sweetness and clearness have a special charm.
Mary-Ellen Nesi (Arminio)
Mary-Ellen Nesi is an intrepid Arminio and her incisiveness and attention for the text is equal to her vocal agility. She has perhaps the strongest temperament among the singers. This make her stand out not only as a virtuosa, but also as an interpreter with a keen dramatic sense.
Dilyara Idrisova (Rosmonda)
Dilyara Idrisova sings the role of Rosmonda with intensity and commitment, even though her voice sometimes takes an airy quality in the high register. Her tone is nonetheless generously rich and her coloratura is fine.
Hasnaa Bennani (Cecina)
Even though Cecina is a “Roman captain”, Hasnaa Bennani sings the role in a elegiac way that – I have to be honest – at the beginning left me perplexed. Considering Cecina’s position, this may appear as a contradiction, but it is enough to take a look to the text of his arias to realize that this is a romantic hero and not a fighter and that Bennani was absolutely right in what she did. Moreover, it is enough to listen to the first bars of the accompaniment of some of the arias (most notably, Serbami la tua fede) to realize that Cecina is a sort of anti-Arminio. This said, Bennani’s voice is flexible and smooth and her phrasing is elegant. Her breath control is extraordinary and allows her to sing long lines with extreme elegance.
Julia Lezhneva (Ersinda)
Julia Lezhneva is amazing as Ersinda, an extremely taxing role for its almost uninterrupted vocal acrobatics. Lezhneva, anyway, sings them all with impeccable taste and pyrotechnic coloratura. Her phrasing, roulades and embellishments are exquisite and she finds really easy to sing the most elaborate passages.
Juan Sancho (Segeste)
As for Juan Sancho as Segeste, he sings out of tune. Moreover, sometimes he is so impulsive that unpleasant imprecision breaks the smoothness of his singing.
At last, Jan Tomasz Adamus’s conduction is quite impressive. He elicits from the Capella Cracoviensis the most lustrous sound. Sometimes his tempi are too fast, but usually they are good and the atmosphere of each piece is sumptuously and suitably set.
The present recording of Germanico in Germania is really fine. Apart from some weak points (inevitable as in every recording), this performance shed lustre on Porpora’s forgotten opera. It really appears as an enjoyable piece of Baroque music that I would like to listen to more often. The hope is that this album is the starting point.