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Ah, to have been an opera lover in the 1950s and 1960s. That was when the adventurous went out prospecting for unknown operas and came back with gems from the bel canto era like Bellini’s Il pirata or Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda which had been lost for half a century or more.
The search still goes on today, though the mine yielded up its best treasures years ago. The record company Opera Rara is one of the leaders in the field and it makes up for the thin pickings that are left by performing the operas with star casts and producing CD sets afterwards as a permanent memento of its finds.
The latest is Pacini’s Alessandro nell’Indie, which was given a concert performance at the Coliseum on Sunday. The plot is the usual nonsense of love and betrayal among the power brokers of history, enlivened for us today by the delightful conceit of having Alexander the Great portrayed by a delicate bel canto tenor who spends his time spinning filigree vocal decorations while his warriors wait outside.
Pacini was in his late 20s when he wrote this opera for the Teatro San Carlo in Naples and was already well versed in the tricks of the bel canto trade.
If the composers of that era sometimes seem to be measuring their cloth by the yard, Pacini delivers enough here to fit out all of Naples with new curtains – though one nicely-turned ensemble, accompanied at first by a solo harp, offers a morsel of originality just in time for the final curtain.
In a lesser performance rigor mortis might soon beckon, but Opera Rara fielded a classy central pair of singers: Laura Claycomb was the soft-edged, supple soprano, who sailed up to Cleofide’s high E flats, and Jennifer Larmore’s sure and defiant mezzo was ideal for rebellious Poro.
Although his top notes sound curdled now, Bruce Ford made an elegant Alessandro.
Thanks to the energised conducting of David Parry, the London Philharmonic Orchestra administered a sufficient shot of adrenaline to keep Pacini’s opera on its feet for three hours.
It will probably never need another.
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