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Although Pergolesi’s operas have all appeared on DVD, surprisingly few are currently available on CD, so it’s a shame this new recording of Adriano in Siria is such a disappointment. First, a technical issue: it appears someone decreed that each act had to fit onto a single disc. This works for Act 2 (51 minutes) and Act 3 (41 minutes), but Act 1 clocks in at 85 minutes and, as anyone who has ever burned a CD-R will know, if you try to squeeze more than 80 minutes of music onto a disc, the sound is likely to flutter, jump and distort towards the end. That it happens here at the close of Act 1 is especially galling, since it spoils the gorgeous ‘Lieto così talvota’, not only one of Pergolesi’s most exquisite arias but also the recording’s outstanding performance, as Franco Fagioli’s voice and Magdalena Karolak’s oboe intertwine for 12 minutes of sublimely sensuous music – until it all goes wonky at the last and you hear the echo of Decca shooting itself in the foot!

Adriano in Siria, premiered in Naples in 1734, was Pergolesi’s third opera seria, although its libretto, by Metastasio, was drastically revised for, and possibly by, its star performer, the castrato Caffarelli, whose role of Farnaspe is sung on this CD by counter-tenor Fagioli. His tone can be beautifully creamy, yet can also sound over-egged, and his quivery vibrato is an acquired taste. For me, Fagioli ‘oversings’ at times, the way some actors overact, the voice drawing too much attention to itself.

The other singers have their moments. Mezzo-soprano Rosina Basso (Emirena) is especially affecting on ‘Prigioniera abbandonata’, an aria steeped in typically Pergolesian pathos, while soprano Dilyara Idrisova (Sabina) sparkles on the delightfully catchy ‘Chi soffre’ and ‘Digli ch’è un infedele’. Unfortunately, the singers are not helped by Capella Cracoviensis’ clunky accompaniment: they play with gusto but little finesse, imparting a brusque edge to music whose appeal so often depends on a delicate sense of yearning.

Graham Lock Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Early Music Today, 2017 - ©Rhinegold Publishing