Throughout his long and colourful life (he died in 1842 aged 82), Cherubini created many sublime operatic as well as sacred works. His oeuvre in the former genre is prolific indeed, but only Médea has survived, to a certain extent, the test of time.
'Les Abencérages' was premièred on 6th April 1813 in the presence of Napoleon and Marie Louise, it was a resounding success and found such important admirers as Berlioz, Mendelssohn and Spontini. Unfortunately, its popularity was short-lived and for many decades the opera was consigned to the limbo of complete neglect.
The 1856 Florence revival conducted by Giulini, although unsatisfactory in many ways, opened the way to the recovery of this work which represents a vital stage in the composer's production in as much as it was his last serious stage work. When Peter Maag and Radio Italia chose to perform this work in 1975, they chose the original three act version thus restoring an opera of inestimable beauty to the operatic world.
Written to a libretto by Etienne de Jouy, the action takes place in late 15th century Granada during the reign of the Moorish Kings, and has as its core of the story an ancient feud between the Abencerragi and Zegri tribes. A strong dose of love, betrayal, jealousy and heroism is also thrown in for good measure.
Soloists, choir and orchestra all perform magnificently under Peter Maag's committed baton with a recording that brings out the fine characteristics of this unjustly neglected work. Full marks to ARTS for resurrecting this legendary performance.
Copyright © 2006, Gerald Fenech