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Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Bejun Mehta, Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, and René Jacobs, Che Puro Ciel: The Rise of Classical Opera

The beginnings of the classical period of opera don't get much attention as a unified entity in the recorded repertoire, not anyway other than as discrete recordings of single operas or of excerpts therefrom.

So the anthology Che Puro Ciel: The Rise of Classical Opera (Harmonia Mundi 902172) is especially welcome. The countertenor Bejun Mehta joins the chorus and chamber orchestra of the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin under René Jacobs for a moving period-instrument performance of selected arias from operas of the era.

Much of the music you will probably not be very familar with, or perhaps not at all. Christoph Gluck, a major instigator of simplicity, coherence and realism in the opera of the period, is represented by excerpts from his groundbreaking Orfeo ed Euridice as well as the more obscure Ezio. Then there are the lesser-known early Mozart operas Ascanio in Alba and Mitridate. Along with these we get some rather unknown gems: Tommaso Traetta's (1727-1779) Antigona and Ifigenia in Tauride, Johann Adolf Hasse's (1699-1783) Il trionfo di Clelia and Johann Christian Bach's (1735-1782) Artaserse.

Hearing the music with Mehta's precise and moving countertenor as the solo voice, with the period instruments and René Jacobs' meticulous yet impassioned period readings is like hearing this era as never before.

The performances are exceedingly wondrous, lush yet with the intimacy of the era that we rarely hear today. The music sounds much more exotic, more alien, older than the standard readings of this period, plus these are some very rare gems to behold and appreciate.

It's music as discovery. It may change how you hear the era but in any case it will delight any and all music lovers and opera buffs, I can predict.

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