I find it interesting the way some opera composers become canonical to the point where their most unsuccessful (often deservedly so) works still get produced while others, equally famous in their day, disappear pretty much entirely. One of the latter group is Gaspare Spontini who had a long career stretching from the the late 18th into the middle of the 19th centuries during which he was active in Italy, Paris, Vienna and Germany. There was a revival of his La Vestale at La Scala with Visconti directing and Callas in the title role but otherwise the 20th century pretty much ignored him. So obscure had he become that the Wikipedia entry for his operas describes his La fuga in maschera as “genre unknown”. Perhaps that’s not so surprising as the work was last performed in 1800 and the score was thought to be lost until it turned up in an English bookshop in 2007. Subsequently it was performed in 2012 at the Teatro GB Pergolesi in Jesi as part of the Festival Pergolesi Spontini.
It’s a curious work in some ways. It’s a comedy with clear roots in the commedia. The plot is ridiculous but the score is actually quite good with a couple of big arias for each of the main characters, often in a slightly parodic style, lots of patter song and tons of quick fire ensembles. The plot concerns a rich, elderly artist Marzucco who wants to marry off his daughter Elena to an erudite doctor Doralbo who is a total fraud. She isn’t interested and fancies a vegetable grower; the rather thick Nardullo. Things are complicated because Marzucco’s well endowed (in many ways) niece fancies Doralbo. It gets even whackier when the scheming tart Corallina arrives. Her plans to marry Marzucco are complicated by the fact that Nardullo is her brother and owes her a lot of money while she knows all about Doralbo and may in fact have been his mistress at some point. Throw in some whacky servants, a fake seance; set up by Corallina but hijacked by Nardullo, multiple conflicting wedding contracts and a whole series of predictable misunderstandings and there is the basis of a pretty good farce.
The production, directed by Leo Muscato, is interesting. Costumes are a bit cartoonish (which at least helps keep who is who straight) and “sets” are realised almost entirely from projections, scrims and back lighting. There’s lots of movement and the pacing is what one needs and expects from a farce. It’s a bit reminiscent of Dario Fo’s famous Barber of Seville which maybe isn’t surprising as the whole thing feels a bit like what you would get if Figaro was a bit thick and Despina showed up to pull the strings.
The mostly Italian cast is really rather good. Corallina is sung by Alessandra Marianelli. She’s vocally secure and a very good actress. Perhaps the most lyrical singing comes from the impressive Ruth Rosique as Elena. She gets a couple of showpiece arias and sounds very good in them. Filippo Morace as Marzucco is an old style buffa baritone which is exactly what’s needed and everybody else is just fine too. Corrado Rovaris directs from the harpsichord with I Virtuosi Italiani on historical instruments in the pit.
Video direction is by Tiziano Mancini and he does a good job of filming a tricky production. Heavy use of projections is never easy to handle. On Blu-ray the high definition picture and DTS-HD surround sound are well up to standard (There is PCM stereo as well). There aren’t any extras but there’s a helpful essay in the booklet as well as a detailed track listing which I found essential for sorting out who was who in the early stages of the piece. Subtitle options are English, French, German and Italian.
This is a very enjoyable disk if a bit silly. It’s certainly more than just a rescue job from the Valley of Lost Things.