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Famous in his lifetime, Neapolitan composer Saverio Mercadante (1795-1870) has long languished in the shadow of Bellini and Verdi. It’s only in the past couple of decades that some of his 57 operas have been revived at niche festivals such as Wexford and Wildbad, from where this world premiere recording of I Briganti (The Brigands, 1835) emanates.

What posterity has overlooked is the crucial role Mercadante played in transforming bel canto opera into music drama. Without his example it is doubtful Verdi would have developed in the way he did, a thesis for which I Briganti, a “melodramma serio in three parts”, provides ample evidence: the opening of Part Two, a storm and drinking song, offers a blatant foretaste of the opening scenes of Otello, while the choral stretta “All’armi” presages Il trovatore.

Based on Schiller’s play Die Räuber, I Briganti abounds in beautiful music: the soprano’s mourning aria and the tenor’s cavatina, both in Part One, are among the best examples. This live recording from the 2012 Rossini in Wildbad festival is the latest in a series of rare 19th-century Italian operas taped there by German Radio and released at budget price by Naxos.

Occasional blemishes of execution are more than compensated for by the spirit and style of performance, for which Fogliani, conducting a Czech orchestra and Polish choir, must take credit. Russian tenor Maxim Mironov makes an outstanding bel cantist, matched by soprano Petya Ivanova. Vittorio Prato and Bruno Praticò contribute pleasingly in the baritone and bass roles, and the ensemble rises with thrilling élan to the Part One and Three finales.


I Briganti

Virtuosi Brunensis/Antonino Fogliani

(Naxos, 2 CDs)

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