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Will Salieri ever escape the image foisted upon him by Peter Shaffer in his play (and subsequent film) Amadeus, poisoned with jealousy for the more talented Mozart? He might never achieve the immortality of his rival but there is still much to appreciate from his considerable compositional output. Salieri worked between Vienna and Paris for a while – having enjoyed a hit in Paris with Les Danaïdes he came a cropper with Les Horaces, then struck gold again with Tarare, 1787, in which both music and words enjoyed a harmonious partnership, not least because his librettist was that indefatigable polymath Beaumarchais. (As Salieri had already composed, Prima la musica e poi le parole, first the music and then the words.) Then France erupted into revolution and maybe wasn’t the best place for a composer employed by Habsburg Joseph II (whose sister was the unfortunate Marie Antoinette), and so Salieri’s Parisian jaunts were over. Tarare is a reform opera and has the unusual feature of accompanied recitative almost merging into short arioso and back out again: plus it is a curious blend of drama, politics and comedy and takes a while to get going with its switches of mood. A particularly mad example is in Act III, where a series of jolly couplets sung by the eunuch Calpigi are followed by a hugely dramatic monologue for the heroic Tarare. Christophe Rousset guides his forces through the myriad turns of pace with alacrity, and the cast is strong. Tenor Cyrille Dubois and mezzo Karine Deshayes take the heroic roles with elegance, Jean-Sébastien Bou relishes the villainy of Atar, and Enguerrand de Hys’ Calpigi is so amusing that one almost overlooks his solid technique.

Francis Muzzu Read the full review on Agora Classica

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