The Mozartists’ aim is to stage the music of Mozart and his contemporaries, offering new interpretations of well-known masterpieces and bringing rare and neglected works to light. To this end, in 2015 the company launched Mozart 250, a ground-breaking 27-year project exploring the chronological trajectory of the composer’s life, works and influences. This recording forms part of that ongoing project.
Jommelli is an interesting choice for the Mozart 250 project. He was one of the most celebrated composers of his day, but is largely forgotten now. During his 37-year career, he wrote 80 operas. He shared a music teacher with Mozart, Padre Martini, though at different times. His works are little performed today and The Mozartists deserve credit for reviving this little-known opera.
Il Vologeso was written in 1766, when Mozart was just 10 years old and already a year into his own composing career. The story centres on Berenice, queen of Armenia, and the two men who are in love with her: the titular Vologeso, the king of the Parthians, and the Roman general Lucio Vero, who has just recently defeated the former in battle. This unhappy love triangle results in imprisonment, attempted murder, recriminations and more before the final denouement.
The performance on this recording took place at London’s Cadogan Hall on 28 April 2016. It was the work’s UK première, and was devised as a showcase for emerging artists. The cast includes English tenor Stuart Jackson as Lucio Vero, Irish mezzo-soprano Rachel Kelly as Vologeso and British soprano Gemma Summerfield as Berenice. Lucio Vero’s betrothed Lucilla is sung by English mezzo-soprano Angela Simkin; the part of Flavio, an ambassador from Lucio Vero’s co-emperor, Marcus Aurelius, is taken by British soprano Jennifer France; and finally, minister to Vero, Aniceto is sung by English countertenor Tom Verney.
The singers handle the demanding writing well. Summerfield particularly displays an impressive purity of tone and emotional depth, while Jackson makes for a powerful Vero. However, with two sopranos and mezzos playing both women and men, it can at times be hard to follow who is singing. It pays to read the libretto, included in the information-packed booklet, while listening to keep track of the singers.
The music, under the capable direction of conductor and artistic director Ian Page, is light, lively and alert. Standout tracks for me include the ‘Quartetto’ (track 16, CD 1), marking the end of Act I, the ‘Terzetto’ (track 15, CD 2), at the end of Act II and, ending Act III, the ‘Coro’ (track 27, CD 2).
The recording is generally clear, crisp and bright. It wasn’t originally intended for release so there were no post-performance retakes. This results in a fresh, live sound, although it can be a touch fuzzy at times.
It is available as a two-CD set or digital stream or download. The accompanying booklet, as well as the aforementioned libretto, also contains full cast and track lists, essays on The Mozartists and the history of Il Vologeso written by Ian Page and a synopsis of the opera.
• Price: £8 (for the MP3) to £18 (for the two-CD set)
• Format: two-CD set, digital stream, download
• Run time: 140 minutes (70 minutes disk 1, 70 minutes disk 2)
• Tracks: 47 (20 on disk 1, 27 on disk 2)
• More information: www.mozartists.com/product/il-vologeso/ or buy from https://signumrecords.com/product/niccolo-jommelli-il-vologeso/SIGCD692/
This upbeat performance provides an enjoyable and sprightly introduction to Jommelli’s music, reclaiming an opera that has perhaps unfairly been forgotten.