Cher Public

Everybody loves to make a vow

CarrerasThe operas of Saverio Mercadante are often said to be among those 19th century Italian works most worthy of revival; in case you’ve never heard one, this week “Trove Thursday” lets you judge for yourself with a 1974 broadcast of his best-known work, Il Giuramento, with Annabelle Bernard, Agnes Baltsa, José Carreras and Robert Kerns

Last fall “Trove Thursday” featured Spontini’s 1807 masterpiece La Vestale with Renata Scotto. Mercadante composed his own Vestale in 1840 for Naples, and an excerpt from it appeared on Joyce Di Donato’s recent “Stella di Napoli” CD.

More than 50 operas by Mercadante premiered during his nearly 50 year career but few are performed today. However, the British organization Opera Rara has been especially active in reviving his works; in fact, the only Mercadante opera I’ve ever heard live was Emma d’Antiochia at London’s Royal Festival Hall in October 2003. The concert performance conducted by David Parry and starring Nelly Miricioiu and Bruce Ford formed the basis for Opera Rara’s recording of Emma. That organization has also released Virginia which was also revived at the 2010 Wexford Festival starring Angela Meade.

One might have expected Mercadante’s operas to have been performed by Opera Orchestra of New York and indeed Virginia was announced by OONY for March 1978 but Montserrat Caballé took ill and the entire enterprise was canceled. But OONY did perform Giuramento in 1981 with Baltsa and Mara Zampieri as Elaisa in what I believe was her only NYC appearance.

Like Arlene Saunders who was featured here several weeks ago, New Orleans-born African-American soprano Bernard, this performance’s Elaisa, spent much of her performing career in Europe, mostly in Berlin. Her co-star baritone Robert Kerns who sings Manfredo was from Detroit and also sang primarily in Europe and died in Vienna in 1989.

Mercadante: Il giuramento
Berlin, 1974

Elaisa: Annabelle Bernard
Bianca: Agnes Baltsa
Isaura: Lucy Peacock
Viscardo: Jose Carreras
Manfredo: Robert Kerns
Brunoro: William Wu

Conductor: Gerd Albrecht

“Trove Thursday” offerings can be downloaded via the audio-player on their page. Just click on the icon of a square with an arrow pointing downward and the resulting mp3 file will appear in your download directory. Il Giuramento, last week’s Orlando, and all previous “Trove Thursday” fare remain available from iTunes or via any RSS reader.

  • Camille

    Oh BOY! I’ve heard about this forEVer and never yet heard it!

    Thursday Treat!!

    I picked up an album of Mercadante arias once long ago in Italy, and in studying his writing just the little I did, unfortunately concluded that he is a near-miss—some inspired passages coupled with lots of eally clunky and unfelicitous passages. It’s kind of heartbreaking. Something akin to Pacini, I reckon.

    Agnes Baltsa sang Il Giuramento here in New York, or was that Mara Zampieri in her role?

    • mrsjohnclaggart

      Camille! You flunk the opera queen test!! That Giuramento was one of the most insane performances in Eve Quaalude’s crazy history (the high school marchings bands strutting down the aisles of Carnegie Hall during Rienzi was one such night. If they weren’t ALL high school boys, they were young US ARMY players. The deafening, out of tune and sync sounds and all that testosterone blowing sent one queen into delirium).

      But at Giuramento, MARA ZAMPIERI made her NY (and I think American) debut. She was a tiny figure with ENORMOUS pearl glasses with THICK rims and A MOLE. She opened her mouth. The sound was so HUGE that hearing aids went off around the house and the older man to my right clutched his heart, the woman in front of me screamed. Mara (my adored one) gave a mad, wild, intense performance, which had ALL on their feet.

      Poor Agnes Baltsa was inaudible. But when she could she acted as though the acclaim was solely for her. She gave VERY deep curtseys. Suddenly, the dwarf lady who went to everything in those days ran down the aisle and reached her hand up to Agnes. Agnes thinking she wanted to shake it, extended her hand while still in her deep curtsey. The dwarf lady yanked her OFF THE STAGE. Agnes screamed, it was the loudest sound she made all night. There was panic in the hall. But she climbed back on the stage and held her hands over her head like a prize fighter. The dwarf lady was led out by security and everybody had a great time!

      • Camille

        I MUST FORFEIT THE TIARA!!! sob, gurgle, choke……..!
        Sadly hanging up my coronet as I write this. Oh dear me! I shall have to give up my scepter as well as the jeweled girdle, and become a Grand Duchess, no, an ARCH Grand-Duchess, but dearie me, how many have we of those right here reigning in Parterrialandia?!

        And who was the La Tisbe/LaGioconda character? Mara, I guess? That character has a very beautiful aria to sing, something about her wanting ‘La Madre to wait for her nel Cielo’ — can’t recall the name of it right now and don’t know where that album of music is deposited anymore. It should be around as I was reviewing it in the last couple months. I guess I should hire Irma, now that Bianca Castafiore has retired!
        Oh YES, about fifteen years ago I checked this out of the NYPAL and listened to a part of that very performance you refer to, but not at all thoroughly as I was busy with other things,!

        Mrs. Clagartessa, have you ever had opportunities to hear other of his works, most notably, the Oriazi e i Curiazi? A beautiful and dramatic scene for the character of Camilla, lies within — an almost really great scene and piece of writing, I felt. And perhaps I only feel that way as I have been so Pavlovianly conditioned to the Verdian style.

        So the two of them were both in it, oh how cray=cray that musta been! There won’t be anymore like that coming around here….The thing about La Zampa which I like so much is that, when she was good, she was GREAT, and when she was bad, she was well, AWFUL. I love her Lady Macbeth, but watch her Fanciulla del West, with the video sound OFF! Her acting is so affecting in that role, and a different take on the character of Minnie, as old maid, which makes one stop to consider the opera from quite another viewpoint — this was Minnie’s Last Chance — and I guess we all know what that means

        Yes, I had the Renzi experience just a few years ago, this time in the awful Avery—David Geffen, that is, Hall. They were naval academy or some other type of military boys this time around, and, yes, they marched up the aisles. It was the wrong place, and too late. It was not a happy afternoon, despite the earnest efforts of many and I shall not go into the various vocal hits and misses, already catalogued and lamented upon at the time of the performance, when -- January 2013 or 2012?

        Yes, Saverio has been forgotten, but you know, he tried his damnedest to get Verdi run out of town (bella Napoli) on a pole, so it’s just that history gets written by those who win the war, and that’s ALLES!!!

        Now, you will excuse me as I have to go listen to Mr Romney’s bizarro speech………….

        p.s. — are you going to review the Carpaccio being done in Filthydelfia this weekend? Just wondering and a’ wishing.


        SIGNED, but not Dictated

        Ex-Reina Camilla

        • Krunoslav

          From my POV, Curtis’s CAPEZIO was really good last night in most respects that matter. Different soprano tomorrow, their fine Ariadne from last year, then the excellent Wednesday one goes on again Sunday. Sold out, though not every ticket buyer showed up.

          “Bianca Castafiore has re-tired”

          About time!

          If ever any singer needed road repairs years ago.. centuries ago…

          • Camille

            UNLIKE Diana Dors—Bianca Castafiore is gone, but NOT EVER forgotten, no matter what Nerva la Gelosa Diva may infer.

            Nerva, Herself, could use a tune-up and a retread of her sorry soles, which reminds me……

            …..awaiting word on the CAPEZIOS, such a wonderful work, despite its loppy loopiness.

      • Camille

        Okay, who WAS THAT DWARF LADY (La nana?) and WHY DO ALL YOU QUEENS CALL Maestro (“Don’t call me Maestra!!”) Queler, ‘Evil Quaaludes’? I have heard this name repeatedly over the past twenty years and NO ONE will explain to little me how it came to pass she is dubbed with this disrespectful nickname!!!!

        I mean, aren’t all of you GRATEFUL she gave you I Masnadieri, and Il Pirate (with Aprile doing quite the creditable job, brava, diva, and take a bow!) and Marino Falliero, and my beloved Le Cid, that which initially endeared her to me??????? MANCA RISPETTO!!!!!

        It must have started in the seventies, when everyone was taking quaaludes, about the same time she started out.

        Anyway, I don’t know quaaludes from a hole in the ground and NO ONE ever tells me ANYTHING, as they want to be able to laugh AT me and not WITH me.

        Ahimè, me poverina!!!!

        • Camille

          ‘Il PiratE’ is the little heard English version of Il PiratA. Well, it started out as an English play, at least. Autocorrect, thank you.

  • aulus agerius

    Washington Concert Opera presented this in 2009 with James Valenti & Elizabeth Futral. I was in TX at the time, alas, and could not attend. I in no way denigrate Mercadante or Pacini. They entertained their wide audience for decades and provided rich fodder for Verdi.

    • Krunoslav

      The others at WCO were Krisztina Szabo and Donnie Ray Albert, both very good.

      An exciting concert.

    • grimoaldo

      Speaking of Washington Concert Opera, I am looking forward to their performance of “La Favorite” tomorrow with Kate Lindsey, who I have heard of but never heard, Randall Bills in the crucial tenor role, who I have never heard of at all, and John Relyea, who I have heard in broadcasts and did not enjoy particularly, or in the case of the a-TRO-cious ROH “Robert le Diable”, at all.
      Still, maybe he will be better live, and I am very much hoping for another “find” with WCO, who are the reason why I lost my heart to Russell Thomas, Michael Fabiano and Lisette Oropesa.
      Gotta listen to this “Guiramento” too, I look forward to it and many thanks once again CC for that transcendent “Orlando” from Carnegie Hall with Horne, VALERIE MASTERSON and MACKERRAS in a performance of a Handel opera I have long heard about in storied fable but actually can now listen to whenever I like! Nothing can every surpass that, it was PEAK PARTERRE!!

      • Camille

        Thanks very, very much for the news anout Hérodiade, my favorite French layer cake! Don’t think I want to drive down there but may hop on that Express train as that may well be worth hearing, that is if they don’t cut it too severely.

        Happy to hear that Lindsey made the transition from back up boy back up band singer (only roles I’ve heard her in are Annio, Nicklausse and Der Komponist) to leading lady. I must say that I never pay attention to secondary Mozart characters and she literally and figuratively made me bolt upright in my seat at the La Clemenza di Tito a couple years ago. Hope her sound was adequate to the demands of the role, quite heavy. Lovely opera. Shame the Met doesn’t revive it for Ms. Garanca.

  • phoenix

    Thanks for the memories: Annabelle Bernard -- brings back the Deutsche Oper of my long-lost youth. She sang regularly at that theater and also as guest elsewhere in the 1960’s & 70’s. She sang so often I can’t remember all her roles, but I do remember seeing her quite a few times. You could say she was a Haus-Sängerin or a cherished member of the ensemble -- take your pick. Another attack of my chronic color-blindness because I don’t remember her being African-American, but of course she was. I guess it wasn’t an issue for me. That was 40-50 years ago and I always partied after (and sometimes before) the performances -- so much for my memory. But I still do have recall of many great performances.
    -- I only saw Il Giuramento once -- at that 1981 OONY NYC performance mentioned above. I remember we had to stifle our giggles at the ingeniously self-conscious ritual of Zampieri putting on & taking off her glasses -- certainly as entertaining as Opolais picking up the pot at the tea party in Rondine. At any rate, I so liked Zampieri that I went back to Europe to see her in Forza del Destino and Fanciulla del West. I still miss her.
    -- Re: Mercadante. His La Vestale (with a tragic ending unlike Spontini’s happy one) impressed me a great deal. Thanks to the Wexford Opera we have had heard quite a few quality recordings of live Mercadante performances over the years.

  • Krunoslav

    ” baritone Robert Kerns who sings Manfredo was from Detroit and also sang primarily in Europe and died in Vienna in 1989.”

    I know Kerns from his Sharpless for Karajan, plus I saw him once when in college-- as Ford in a starry Vienna FALSTAFF: Taddei, Lorengar, Ludwig, Araiza, Ghazarian. He looked fine and sang in a well-trained voice and frankly made almost no impression-- Taddei, Lorengar and Araiza (pretty much perfection as Fenton) were the stars that night.

    Bill, and others-- did you have live performance encounters with Kerns?

    • agh

      Kerns was a favourite at Aix in the early 1960s. I heard him there as Papageno and Harlequin in ’63 and Count Almaviva and Ford in ’64, and at Covent Garden as Billy Budd in ’64 and Guglielmo in ’71. He always gave a good, perfectly acceptable performance, but was usually overshadowed to some extent by other cast members. As Budd he was, of course, the leading character and to quote a reviewer of that performance (the first at Covent Garden of the opera in its ‘reduced’ two-act form) he looked ‘like a husky blond Lil’ Abner, conveyed very well the sweet nature of Billy, acted with natural grace and rose to the great opportunity of his scene in irons; I hope was shall hear him in other roles’.

    • Bill

      Krunoslav -- Robert Kerns sang regularly in Vienna. hundreds of performances actually of over 50 roles, large and small. I saw him among others as the Figaro Count, Harlekin in Ariadne, the Graf in Capriccio, Barbier in Die Schweigsame Frau. He actually sang the Figaro Count 82 times at the Staatsoper and he performed there from 1962 through 1989 lastly in small parts. He was good in Figaro, cut a fine figure on the stage and had an attractive baritone voice. If he died in 1989 he was only about 56 years old and active on stage until his death. Apparently he first sang at the NYC opera
      in 1960 or so before being engaged in Zurich and then in
      Vienna, Aix, Covent Garden -- I suppose in Vienna he was somewhat overshadowed by Prey, Berry etc. in some of his roles during his time there and then just after his death the young Skovhus came along to sing many of Kern’s roles.

      • Bill

        Kerns also alternated in some roles with the very popular Waechter during Kerns’s engagements in Vienna. Baritones in Kern’s fach were not in short supply for Weikl and sometimes Brendel (more in Munich) were also about. Oddly Kerns never sang Papageno in Vienna as he did in Aix (but then Kunz was still dominating the role in Vienna until 1974 some 274 performances of it after WWII
        which did not even match Kunz’s 338 Figaros in Vienna alone not to speak of Salzburg and elsewhere).

        • Krunoslav

          Thanks, Bill. He was one of many baritones we lost to the epidemic, no?

          • Bill

            Krunoslav -- of that I have no idea. One only notes now that he died at an earlier age while still active
            on the stage and in reflection that he was a fine artist
            with an impressive career in Europe who may not have risen to the great fame as some of his
            fellow baritones at the time.

  • Rudolf

    Saverio Mercadante … in 1979 I attended a concert performance of “Il Giuramento” in Vienna (Staatsoper). Zampieri, Baltsa (very audible), Domingo and Kerns; Gerd Albrecht conducting. It was fabulous. I would like to recommend Opera Rara’s studio productions of “Orazi e Curiazi” with Miricioiu. Repeated listening will get you hooked on this opera. Opera Rara also produced Mercadante’s “Emma d’Antiochia”, “Virginia” and highlights from “Zaira”, “Maria Stuarda, Regina di Scozia” and “I Normanni a Parigi”. I believe the first time I came across Mercadante’s name was through the radio. That particular station would ever so often play Mercadante’s “Rondo Russo”, which is the 3rd movement (allegro vivace e scherzando) of his flute concerto op. 57. :-)

    • aulus agerius

      Regina di Scozia -- it also goes under another name which I forget right now -- is a lot of fun with surprising musical twists and some great tunes. My favorite Pacini is probably Carlo di Borgogna, closely followed by L’Ultimo Giorno di Pompei and Medea. My intro to these composers was attending the Orazi e Curiazi in St. Paul 10 years ago feat Brenda Harris in an inane American Civil War production.

      • Konrad Swollenrod

        What about Maria, Regina d’Inghilterra? For me, this work is clearly Pacini’s masterpiece, and my favorite of his operas.

        • aulus agerius

          Yes, I agree, that’s the one I was thinking of. I confuse myself with these rare operas, and Mercadante and Pacini do sound similar to my unpracticed ear. Opera Rara did a concert performance of it in the 80s under the name of Maria Tudor (which I have a low quality recording of) and later issued a different, I believe, performance with Miricioiu under the name of Maria, Regina d’Inghilterra. It is surprisingly creative and innovative and entertaining!