With a libretto based on the Old Testament account of Gideon and his non-violent triumph over the Midianites, the Neapolitan composer Nicola Porpora (1686-1768) produced a score which, though far from consistent, has moments of great beauty. Among them are Gideon’s aria ‘Cadranno i lupi’; a sublime Sinfonia at the opening of Part Two; a couple of fine choruses and, above all, beautifully wrought recitatives. These apart, don’t expect a forgotten masterpiece. This performance – the first in modern times – boasts competent and well-matched soloists. Countertenor Kai Wessel as the eponymous hero gives a poised and musical account, though his voice could benefit from a weightier lower register. Male soprano Jörg Waschinski produces an ethereal, emasculated sound that is, perhaps, as close as we can come to that of the original soprano castrato who sang the part of Gideon’s enemy, Oreb. (Pity the man – he ends up losing his head, not to mention his unmentionables.) But most impressive is soprano Linda Perillo (Gideon’s wife, Sichemi) whose singing is by turns agile, sensuous and dramatic. Martin Haselböck draws some silvery string playing from the Vienna Academy, and if his shaping of the oratorio can lack momentum, at least he avoids the aggressively hard-driven style of some period performances.-Kate Bolton
Grammy-nominated artist Max Emanuel Cencic presents Nicola Porpora: Opera Arias, to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Porpora’s death.
Argentine countertenor Franco Fagioli has emerged as one of the rising figures in that hot field, seemingly with the Italian opera of the first half of the 18th century as a specialty. As such, he might be particularly well represented by this collection of arias by Nicola Porpora, whose activities cut across a cross section of important activities in the century's second quarter. He was the teacher of both Haydn and Farinelli. He snagged many of Pietro Metastasio's high-tragedy opera seria libretti for himself and set them with suitably florid music, but he also had a considerable for sheer melody that's on display in this well-chosen program. Fagioli is not an exceptionally powerful countertenor, but he's capable of sheer smoothness of line that's appropriate to Porpora, who was called the greatest teacher of singers among composers, and the greatest composer among teachers of singing. He gets excellent support from the sparse but extremely sensitive Academia Montis Regalis under Alessandro de Marchi, and he makes a strong entry in the continuing case that Porpora ought to be ranked among the operatic greats. A countertenor release that can be recommended for pure melodic beauty.(James Manheim)