It’s sometimes a bit of a mystery why some works disappear from the opera repertoire while other, not obviously superior, works enjoy lasting success so it’s always a pleasure to discover an obscure work that is really good (1). Salieri’s Europa Riconosciuta fits that description in my view. It’s basically an opera seria much along the lines of Mozart’s opere serie (opera serias? – who knows?(2)) except that there’s a longish ballet at the end of Act 1. There are long, florid, arias with, for the two female leads, very high tessitura. Two of the three male roles were written for castrati and the one intact male role is for that sort of heroic tenor who crops up in Idomeneo or La Clemenza di Tito. It’s not as formulaic as works of 50 years earlier. There are far more ensemble and choral numbers than in any of Handel’s Italian works. It’s also just plain rather good. Salieri understands singers and he writes really good melodies. I guess he was just a bit unfortunate to have that pesky Salzburger as competition.
This 2000 La Scala recording of Puccini’s Tosca is straightforward and rather good. It’s a revival of Luca Ronconi’s 1996 production which I’m somewhat astonished to read was regarded as controversial. Sure, the sets are sort of fractured and feature some weird angles but everything else seems to be “by the book” down to the smallest details like the candlesticks and cross. Regietheatre this isn’t. In this performance the acting is OK, if tending to the “stand and wave your arms about” default Italian mode. The stand out exception is Leo Nucci’s Scarpia. He doesn’t have the physical presence to be brutal in the way that, say, Bryn Terfel can be but he manages to project a very nasty securocrat indeed. This is a Scarpia who would be good at making Powerpoint presentations to his bosses detailing how many women and children his unmanned drones had killed today.