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If you remember and enjoyed the good old bad old days, when indulgent conductors and over- exuberant singers (usually sopranos) went all out to decorate the vocal line until the original melody was almost obliterated and the score a blur of black notes, then this recording is probably for you. Purists may wish to look away, but, much as Porpora’s original audience would have expected in 1732, this premiere recording of Germanico in Germania is a feast of spectacular vocalism.

Porpora composed the opera for an all-male cast, but here we have both male and female singers, the lowest voice being a tenor. Two of the creators were superstar castrati, Caffarelli and Annibali, and respectively we have Max Emanuel Cencic in the title role, a Roman commander, and Mary-Ellen Nesi as Arminio, his Germanic rival. Stepping into their shoes is no small ambition, and the singers are excellently contrasted, with Cencic’s lower vocal gravity and smooth delivery contrasting with Nesi’s more spitfire personality, though she makes the utmost of her Act II aria, the calm amidst her storm. Julia Lehzneva wins in the coloratura madness stakes, piping through more notes than imaginable surely even in Beverly Sills’ most fevered dreams. Her five arias perhaps contain more notes than some complete operas – though her strange trill, akin a backfiring Vespa, won’t be for everyone. Dilyara Idrisova and Hasnaa Bennani share slightly calmer soprano honours, and Juan Sancho adds his own tenor thrills to the mix.

Act II contains a particularly unusual and ebullient trio for Cencic, Nesi and Idrisova. Tomasz Adamus keeps everything grounded, despite indulging his cast, and there’s a pleasing snap to the music, not over-exaggerated.

Francis Muzzu Read the full review on Agora Classica

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