Paisiello (1740-1816) was the master of Italian opera buffo and a significant influence on Mozart. His orchestral writing and musical characterizations are deft and dramatic, and he was the first to introduce ensemble finales into comic operas. Don Chisciotte is an early work, premièred in Naples (where he spent most of his life) in 1769, and it already shows all the skills that made his work popular throughout Europe. The libretto by Lorenzi is based on a 1719 play that deals with the Don's visit to a noble court and the tricks that are played on him there, drawing in material from elsewhere in Cervantes' novel, including his tilt with the windmills. The characters are reduced from aristocrats to middle-class Neapolitans familiar to the opera's audiences, and they are treated with parodistic irony. The music bubbles along merrily, with lots of rapid figurations in conventional formal frames, much secco recitative moving the action along, and while none of the arias is especially memorable, they (especially the ensemble numbers) are consistently graceful and melodious.
Nuova Era specializes in live recordings of relatively unfamiliar Italian operas; they are generally of high quality, and this one, from a 1990 production in Rome, is first-rate. Its cast (more familiar to audiences in Italy than elsewhere) contains no great singers, but they are all more than adequate, with bright, clear, and well-trained voices; they provide effective characterizations, and the enjoyment they seem to be taking in their roles is transmitted to the listener. Velia de Vita's harpsichord continuo for the recitatives is excellent, and the orchestra sounds fine under Morandi's energetic direction. Nuova Era's releases sometimes include librettos in English, but often they don't; there isn't one here, and that's a pity. But there's much in the music that clearly foreshadows Le Nozze di Figaro, and on its own terms it's delightfully entertaining.
Copyright © 2000, Alexander J. Morin