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Robert Hugill
MusicWeb International, June 2010

Il crociato in Egitto has the unusual distinction of being the last significant opera written for a castrato. The role of Armando was created by Giovanni Velluti, who sang in both the Venice and London performances—and loved London so much that he stayed to manage the theatre. When the opera was performed in Paris, Armando was sung by soprano Giuditta Pasta and Meyerbeer wrote new music for her.

This recording, made live at La Fenice in Venice, uses an edition based on that first performed at La Fenice in 1824, though it is slightly trimmed, no great violence is done to the score. On this disc the role of Armando is sung by the high counter-tenor Michael Maniaci. Unusually for a counter-tenor singing at this high pitch, Maniaci’s voice offers flexibility and depth; his top notes are entirely creditable. But he has a rather soft-grained voice which is quite feminine in timbre. Having a man playing the role on stage is probably a great advantage, but on disc Maniaci does not present the bright-edged brilliance which the castrato originally brought to the role.

Il crociato in Egitto does not have quite the grandeur and grandiosity of Meyerbeer’s French operas, but it is on a large and generous scale. The plot unfolds slowly with plenty of epic scenes. It may not be a master-piece, but listening to it you can understand why Meyerbeer was popular in Italy. He combines a respect and flair for traditional forms with a very Germanic feel for structure and polyphony.

The plot, as with Meyerbeer’s later operas, sets the conflict between love and personal duty against the backdrop of an historical conflict. The story concerns Armando, a Knight of Rhodes, who is living in Egypt pretending to be Egyptian. He is secretly married to Palmide (Patrizia Ciofi) who has converted to Christianity. Palmide is the daughter of Sultan Aladino (Marco Vinco). Things are made complicated when Armando’s former colleagues and fiancee appear: Adriano (Fernando Portari), Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes, and Felicia (Laura Poverelli). The struggle plays out slowly over three acts until Aladino generously allows Adriano and Palmide to return to Provence, leaving poor faithful Felicia to fade out gracefully.

The advantage of this recording is that it is made live, and is sung by a predominantly Italian cast…Maniaci and Ciofi are appealing as the leading couple…Laura Polverelli as Felicia is richly contrasting, with her mezzo-soprano voice…Marco Vinco is strong with a richly grained bass voice, as Palmide’s father. As his counterpart, Fernando Portari displays a bright tenor as Adriano. These principals are well supported by Iorio Zennaro as Osmino, the Sultan’s Vizier, and Silvia Pasini as Alma.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, March 2010

Over a hundred years had elapsed since the last performance of Mayerbeer’s epic drama, Il crociato in Egitto, when this landmark recording was made at Venice’s La Fenice. Composed in 1824, it was the last of his grand Italian operas before he looked for greater and lasting success in Paris. A sprawling score in two acts, the story is one I will not even begin to relate. It is set in Egypt during the time of the Sixth Crusade and tells the story of the Egyptians and the Knights of Rhodes into which is woven a complex web of people in love and hidden identities. It calls for a big cast and a sizeable role for a chorus divided between a number of different peoples involved in the guise of Egyptians, Emirs and Knights. At the heart of the plot it touches on the difficulties we face today in the conflict between Muslems and Christians. It also marked the last major opera composed for a castrato, this performance having today’s nearest equivalent in the voice of the male soprano, Michael Maniaci, singing the role of Armando d’Orville. He has a very extensive part, and I would commend this release to you if only to hear his remarkable voice. Used as we are to hearing females sing the parts of young males, it then seems strange to hear a duet between a male soprano and the tenor, Fernando Portari. I also much enjoyed the mezzo, Laura Polverelli, as Felicia, the big virtuoso first act aria, Pace io reco, a noi piu grata, very well taken. Maniaci’s voice blends perfectly with her and with the virtuoso soprano part given to Patrizia Ciofi as Palmide. She is the female at the centre of the story, her second act aria, D’una madre disperata being well-worth the audience applause. The opera is liberally sprinkled with big set pieces, many of the characters on stage with the chorus at the end of the first act with its ‘off stage’ band. The unhappy drama of the final scene and joyful ending is well characterised. In the more exposed moments the chorus could have been more secure and convincing, but the orchestra is very good in what must have been a long evening. Stage noises are few; balance between singers and orchestra is admirable, and the general quality of the sound is very good. No translations but detailed synopsis.

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