PAISIELLO: Gli Astrologi immaginari

I don’t even know if that performance is complete.
Maybe it’s not as this new Bongiovanni issue states “prima esecuzione integrale in tempi
moderni”. Anyway, the Empress Catherine II (also known as the Great) immediately and
enthusiastically endorsed the music at its première in St-Petersburg where Paisiello was
chapel-master for several years at her court. He had already composed four operas when he asked
for a salary increase and he argued that he at least was as good a composer as one of his
predecessors (Baldassare Galuppi) had been and so should get the same amount of money.
Catherine granted Paisiello his wish and lo and behold his inspiration was mightily stimulated. In
three weeks time he composed this small masterpiece. There is a second reason we ought to be
grateful to the great Catherine. Paisiello could be a little bit tedious as is proven by his Il
Barbiere di Siviglia
where a few times the inspiration runs dry. The Empress asked for an
entertainment that wouldn’t last for eternity; and Paisiello limited himself to two acts and one
hour and a half of music. The opera was regularly repeated for the Empress and soon found its
way to Italy, France and Germany. The mature Mozart even used one of Giuliano’s arias to
compose ‘Sechs Variationen in F über die arie Salve tu, Domine’ (KV 398). High praise indeed
from the master and I’m sure that anyone unknowingly hearing the score will attribute it to the
young Mozart of La finta giardiniera. The music is charming and even more melodious than
some early operas of the master of Salzburg. I caught myself humming a few phrases after a first
listening and I’ve got a feeling the Empress Catherine probably had the same reaction after the
first performance.

If there is a small problem, it lies with some of the singers as the conducting is lively and brings
out the strong points of the score. Stefania Donzelli who has a lot of arias and duets to sing
sounds very convincing but the voice is a bit too harsh, too steely in the old Italian provincial
custom of the leggiero. It has the necessary kittenishness but lacks warmth and sweetness. Kathy
Battle would have been ideal in the role. Tiziana Spagnoletta has a vibrato which will not please
many Anglo-Saxon listeners; indeed eve for Mediterranean ears it is probably too intruding. The
men are better. Mauro Utzeri sings with authority though he is not too fluent in his coloratura and
I presume Montarsolo did better in this music. Donato Di Gioia (the higher baritone of the two
men) doesn’t put a foot wrong though his voice is less attractive. If you like young Mozart you
will be agreeably surprised by this issue.

Jan Neckers

image_description=Giovanni Paisiello: Gli Astrologi immaginari
product_title=Giovanni Paisiello: Gli Astrologi immaginari
product_by=Mauro Utzeri (Petronio), Stefania Donzelli (Clarice), Tiziana Spagnoletta Cassandra), Donato Di Gioia (Giuliano Tiburla). Orchestra da Camera Giovanni Paisiello conducted by Lorenzo Fico. Recorded Live on November the 10th 2004 Teatro Orfeo Taranto
product_id=Bongiovanni GB 2406/7 – 2 [2CDs]