Tonight we have another opera that I spent an extended amount of time pursuing. Ercole su’l Termodonte (Hercules in Thermodon) is an opera written by Antonio Vivaldi in 1723, using a libretto by Antonio Salvi. Although the opera is pretty much dominated by female roles (given the presence of Amazonians as characters), there was a papal edict at the time that prevented women from appearing onstage in Rome. So Vivaldi had castrati singing all the female roles. The score was until recently believed to have been lost, but researchers have managed to dig up 30 arias and 2 duets. Although extensive reconstruction work was required, including construction of the missing recitatives, the result is that two recordings have been made of it since 2007, one on DVD and the other on CD.
Obviously, we will be hearing the 2010 CD recording. It is highly regarded, and was nominated for a Grammy at the most recent Grammy Awards. It features the fine Mexican tenor Rolando Villazón (in excellent voice, even though he had to undergo surgery on his vocal chords in 2009) in the role of Hercules, along with an all-star cast of Vivica Genaux, Diana Damrau, Patrizia Ciofi, Joyce DiDonato (who attended college at Wichita State), Romina Basso, Philippe Jaroussky, and Topi Lehtipuu. Fabio Biondi leads Europa Galante.
(One of the special pleasures of programming material like this recording of Ercole is the relative youth of the cast. This strikes me as being the future of opera. Not all of these stars are just rising stars – Joyce DiDonato has been established in the baroque repertoire for much of the last decade, and we have featured recordings of both hers and of Rolando Villazón in previous editions of the show. But I take a special pleasure in being able to feature the work of up and coming operatic talent.)
Our second opera this evening is a comic opera by Benjamin Britten. Albert Herring was written in the 1946 and 1947 It uses a libretto by Eric Crozier, and Britten premiered it in June of 1947. It is highly regarded among 20th century operatic works, and has been recorded on a number of occasions. Tonight’s recording is from 1996, and features Christopher Gillet, Josephine Barstow, Gerald Finley, Ann Taylor, Della Jones, and Felicity Palmer. The Northern Sinfonia is conducted by Steuart Bedford.