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Ronald E. Grames
Fanfare, September 2011

Decca released a now out-of-print disc of excerpts of the opera in 1967 starring Joan Sutherland as Eupaforice. Her regal performance provides an unfortunate contrast to that of Dorothea Wirtz on this release. Wirtz, a lyric coloratura with a fluttery quality, is an odd choice for such a dramatic role. While not to Sutherland’s standards, she does handle the challenging and extensive passagework well, which is the norm for all of the members of this all-female cast. Other cast members are all Mexican artists, which given the opera’s setting hints at an interesting story about which the notes are mute. Also unclear is why the five castrato roles are all assigned to females instead of countertenors.

The best of the singers is Maria Luisa Tamez, the Cortés, whose sharply focused mezzo voice, technical facility, and incisive diction create a plausibly evil man. Her dramatic use of sotto voce is particularly chilling. Ana Caridad Acousta also excels as Spanish Captain Narvès with a very masculine use of her darker contralto and some exciting coloratura. Somewhat less impressive is the Montezuma of Encarnacion Vazquez, who has sufficient depth of voice and dramatic gravitas for the tragic character, but labors a bit on the coloratura and has no trill.

Johannes Goritzki moves the music along smartly, but misses dramatic opportunities with a rather generalized approach. The short Sinfonia guerriera and the tragic final chorus, “Oh Cielo! Ahi giorno orribile,” are jarringly jaunty, though surely Graun is much to blame; Richard Bonynge is but a bit more solemn. One wonders, though, what Harnoncourt would be able to do with them. The modern-instrument German Chamber Academy of Neuss is alert and accurate. The production values are generally high, with outstanding engineering, and the only reason to complain is the lack of libretto, or even reasonable synopsis, in English. Despite the promise in English on the outside of the box of “notes, complete libretto, and translations,” the only translation of the Italian text is in German.

Still, all criticisms aside, one must be very thankful that this recording exists to give us a glimpse of the skills of this now mostly forgotten composer. Graun’s work, and this recording, are well worth the acquaintance of anyone interested in Baroque opera.

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