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I am torn between two Choices in this issue and have taken the coward’s way out, so here they both are. They really could not be more diff erent. First up is Rossini’s Matilde di Shabran, heard here in its original 1821 version before Rossini started snipping at it. The recording is live, from the 2019 Rossini in Wildbad Festival and the sound is good. I haven’t listened to Matilde for quite a while and this set reminds me just how good an opera it is. The story, with its misogynist getting his comeuppance is strange but entertaining. But the confi dence with which Rossini builds his two acts is masterly and the opera is based around a series of great ensembles – in particular a quartet, quintet and septet in Act I and a trio and sextet in Act II. I really enjoyed José Miguel Pérez-Sierra’s conducting, which gives a fi rm steer, relishes the wit and has a good ear for orchestral detail. The young cast is excellent. The role of Corradino is surely most tenors’ nightmare, with its endless roulades across a vast range, but Michele Angelini erupts through the notes with abandon and much skill, even providing a trill. His Matilde, soprano Sara Blanch, is phenomenal in her technique. The tone is warm, the personality sparkles and the coloratura dazzles – her final Rondo is extraordinary in its verve and precision. Between them they create an almost delirious effect. Plaudits too to Victoria Yarovaya, whose agile mezzo powers through the welter of notes, some provided by Pacini who lent a compositional hand. A Matilde of great exuberance.

Also providing a sense of culminating tension is L.I.T.A.N.I.E.S, a ‘Lockdown Opera’. I realise that initially this might not make your heart leap with excitement. But is certainly interesting and, for many readers, will be something different – a plunge into uncharted waters perhaps? Belgian composer Nicholas Lens contacted Australian singer/songwriter and all-round performer Nick Cave and asked him to be his librettist. Cave confesses, ‘I happily agreed. The first thing I did after I put down the phone was search “What is a litany?”’ He wrote a series of 12 for Lens to set and they are rather haunting. In the rock world Cave is a cult star of long standing, with a rather sepulchral post-punk image and a strong intellectual vein running through his work. His texts are mystic and lyrical, with a strongly religious feel and a sense of the infinite. They are not specific to the current pandemic, but reference emotions; ‘I constructed a strange mask from the pieces of me’ will seem curiously more relevant to most people than it would have a year ago.

Lens’ music is hypnotic and relies on repetition and a slow pulse. It is both contemporary, rooted in electronic trance, and yet timeless – Lens is fascinated by the peace and silence of Buddhism. (Trance pumps out at a frantic 135-150 beats per minute; this music rolls at a contemplative 55-70.) The opera is essentially a chamber piece, recorded in one room, with atmospheric vocals mainly by Lens’ daughter, the artist Clara-Lane Lens. Will you like it? I don’t know – enthusiasts of classical minimalism might, so if you listen to Steve Reich or John Adams, try this. On the rock side, there is a pared back elegance reminiscent of late Leonard Cohen. Is it even an opera? As I listened, I felt it cried out for choreography; I’d be fascinated if someone took up the challenge.

Francis Muzzu Read the full review on Agora Classica

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