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Paul Pelkonen
Superconductor, July 2012

It is a testament to the industry of Giaochino Rossini that opera companies and festivals are still finding fresh works by the composer to perform. One of the rarest is the Biblical drama Ciro in Babilonia (Cyrus in Babylon)…

The opportunity to hear this rarity was due to the presence of contralto Ewa Podles in the title role. Ms. Podles is one of the world’s leading contraltos…She…possesses a magnetic stage presence to go with formidable vocal technique. Her claque was there in loud support. They were rewarded with an impressive, magisterial performance.

However, not even the most loyal opera fan-boys could keep tenor Michael Spyres from stealing the evening. As Baldisare (Belshazzar) Mr. Spyres displayed an astonishing command over his instrument…

…Rossini’s opera throws a love story into the drama of the Battle of Opis Soprano Jessica Pratt sang with powerful, warm tone and a glamorous presence that recalled an old-fashioned screen queen.

As the…second pair of lovers, Eric Barry and Sharin Apostolu completed ensembles and made the most of their individual moments in the limelight. Able support came from baritone Scot Bearden as the Persian prince Zambri and bass Karan Karagiozov, who made a sonorous appearance in one scene as the prophet Daniele.

The digital visuals (by Paolo Cucco) had more production value than one usually sees at the Venetian Theater… © 2012 Superconductor Read complete review

Gwynn Roberts
Fine Music, December 2007

This Naxos double CD of the oratorio-opera was released in February this year, and features the rising young Italian singers Riccardo Notta as Belshazzar and Anna Rita Gemmabella in the breeches role of Cyrus. All the soloists handle the delightful tunes provided by the youthful Rossini with high competence and professionalism…The work was recorded live at the Rossini in wildbad Festival held in Bad Wildbad, Germany, in 2004, in consideration of which there is remarkably little audience noise, apart from the applause after each aria. Of particular interest is the aria Chi disprezza gl’infelici, all sung on just one note, which Rossini wrote for a mezzo whose voice he considered was ‘beneath contempt’, but who had one single note, the B flat above middle C, that didn’t sound too bad!

There’s a felicitous intimacy about this recording, helped by Rossini’s ever-present melodic invention, which adequately compensates for Aventi’s dramatically impoverished libretto.

Robert Hugill
MusicWeb International, June 2007

"This new recording of the work is taken from live performances at the Rossini in Wildbad Festival. With one notable exception (see below), Rossini’s original performers seem to have been a pretty talented bunch and the resulting piece requires a cast who can handle some seriously virtuoso music."

"The cast....handle Rossini’s music very creditably and perform it with considerable dramatic bravura. We might have cavils about individual voices but there is no doubt about their vividly dramatic performances.....The singers are well supported by the ARS Bunensis Chamber Choir and the Württemberg Philharmonic Orchestra. Because of the religious nature of the plot, there is quite a significant choral part and the choir acquit themselves well. Antonino Fogliani directs admirably from the harpsichord, he also prepared the edition used here."

Robert J Farr
MusicWeb International, May 2007

"Although Ciro in Babilonia was announced as a drama with chorus, or oratorio, to facilitate its performance in Lent, it is essentially Rossini’s early attempt at opera seria. As Ferrara had not seen L’Inganno Felice the composer re-used its overture with minor amendments. The celebratory chorus of the Babylonians is appropriately jolly as is that for some of the other serious situations in the work; in this respect it is no different to works by Donizetti or early Verdi. But the music also has its sophisticated moments and the composer did not hesitate to draw on parts of it for inclusion in his mature and orchestrally sophisticated Naples opera seria such as Mose in Egitto, his Lenten work of 1818 and which like Ciro had to have a biblical theme. Rossini had a major difficulty in accommodating the second soprano who was to sing Argene. He later condemned her as being impossibly ugly but also a poor singer. After investigation he discovered that she could sing the B flat above middle C and he wrote the aria Che disprezza gl’infelici (CD 2 tr.13) for her on that single note."

"This recording is of the revised edition from manuscripts of the period edited by Urs Schaffer 1984 but in a new version for Rossini in Wildbad by Antonino Fogliani. In listening to the work the variation in sophistication is frequently obvious. It also shows many signs of the works to come such as echoes of Tancredi, which followed in February 1813 at Venice’s premiere theatre, La Fenice. This work and L’Italiana in Algeri, three months later, set Rossini apart from the proliferation of contemporary competitors and ensured his future as an operatic composer."

"Anna Rita Gemmabella’s Ciro is the pick of the bunch. She sang the minor part of Carlotta in the Naxos recording of Torvaldo e Dorliska also from Bad Wildbad, where I found her singing vocally distinctive. Here, her flexible contralto is heard to good effect with strong characterisation overcoming the stop-start caused by the applause (CD 2 tr.11)."

"As Zambiri, the young bass Woitek Gierlach, a name new to me but who featured on Naxos’s recording of Meyerbeer’s Semiramide from Bad Wildbad, sings strongly and with sonority."

As Baldassare Riccardo Botta sings strongly, having a pleasing mid-voice tone".

"The performance serves as an introduction to this early Rossini work which has many pointers to his later opera seria. The booklet has an excellent introductory essay, a similarly skilled track-related synopsis and track listing."

David Denton
David's Review Corner, February 2007

Even as a young man the potential for commercial success was uppermost in Rossini's mind, and the fact that Italian theatres were closed in Lent offered the ambitious composer the potential of writing a work that would be religiously acceptable at the closure period. The result was Ciro in Babilonia, the first of his to two Lent operas (the other being Mose in Egitto). The story surrounds the Babylonian King Belshazzar who has abducted Amira the wife of the Persian King Cyrus. He falls in love with her, but discovers her with an ambassador from Persia - who is Cyrus in disguise - and flies into a rage. Condemned to death, husband and wife are saved with the unexpected victory of the Persian army. Rossini was only 20 when the work was completed, and though its success was initially promising it failed to stay in the repertoire. It did, however, point to a major new opera composer, the second act duo for Ciro and Amira one of the work's highlights. Not unusual at the time, both roles were given to females, and though the opera is unusual in having no soprano, Amira offers the high end as a coloratura mezzo required to perform vocal acrobatics. That Rossini was to write comic operas at times surfaces, the orchestral introduction to the second act being distinctly lightweight. A well shaped opera, with a nice mix of arias, a happy conclusion not quite producing the required big ending. Derived from three stage performances at the annual 'Rossini in Wildbad Festival', the recording is the best I have heard from this source. Anna Rita Gemmabella is a fruity Ciro, the powerful lower end of her contralto voice of adequate weight and perfectly complements Luisa Islam-Ali-Zade's silvery mezzo. Riccardo Botta does his best with the wicked King Baldassare, but it is a taxing tenor role that does not always fall easily on the voice. I was much taken by the big bass voice of Wojtek Gierlach in the supporting role as a Babylonian prince, Zambri. The programme notes tell me that this recording takes us back to something near the original - Rossini made several adaptations - the conductor, Antonino Fogliani, responsible for the preparation of this performing version. Good orchestral support and homespun chorus in a nicely balanced recording with a minimum of stage noises, and at this super bargain price a release no Rossini fan will want to miss.

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