If you have an earlier Melba CD by Deborah Riedel conducted by Richard Bonynge (The Power of Love MR301107) you will probably rush to add this to your collection. That disc was of arias from 19th century British operas by such composers as Balfe, Wallace and Sullivan. Not only were they sung and played with total conviction but their presentation added much to the listener’s enjoyment. As a whole the disc whetted the appetite to hear complete such operas as Lurline and Ivanhoe. It is interesting to note that there is now a good chance that both will be recorded in the near future, as The Maid of Artois has been, excerpts from which were also on that disc. Perhaps the same may apply to the lesser known works on the present disc.
You may think from its title that it is of more familiar fare, but do not be misled. Once past the first few tracks the music tends towards the less well known, and indeed for me at least to the completely unknown in terms of both the music and the composers represented—Crescentini, Zingarelli and Portugallo in particular. Whether all of the arias are really undiscovered treasures is a matter of opinion, but they are certainly unfailingly pleasing to hear, varied and well performed. Riedel…is always efficient in putting the music’s essence across and never gets in the way of its character. The programme includes examples of several contrasting styles of music, and it is to the performers’ credit that these are so clearly defined. I especially enjoyed the contrast between the ‘pleasure gardens’ style of several of the English pieces, the more elaborate vocal lines of the later Italian items, and the elegantly popular style of the two French arias. Once again, not only is this music enjoyable in itself but it encourages the listener to seek out more in a similar vein.
This is helped by the excellent presentation, with relatively lengthy and helpful introductions to each composer, texts with English translations where necessary, and interesting notes about the performers, including a full list of the orchestra. Overall this is second only to the excellent presentation we have come to expect from Opera Rara. Together they put most other companies to shame.
Listening to this disc has given me great pleasure…a delightful and profitable way to add to your knowledge of the opera and song of this period.