Aureliano in Palmira
Juan Francisco Gatell, Marina Viotti, Silvia Dalla Benetta; Camerata Bach Choir/ania Michalak; Virtuosi Brunensis/josé Miguel Pérez-sierra Naxos 8.660448-50 167:09 mins (3 discs) The last of his four operas premiered in 1813 – the year he turned 21 – Rossini’s dramma serio, Aureliano in Palmira did badly at its La Scala launch but then survived in the repertoire for another 15 years or so. What probably put paid to it was the fact that Rossini borrowed music from it for both Elisabetta, regina d’inghilterra (1815), and Il barbiere di Siviglia (1816) – and as the latter became increasingly well-known its re-use of items such as the overture and the original opening chorus would have bothered audiences. In any case the score is uneven, Rossini putting some of its finest numbers on the transfer list.
Nor is Romani’s libretto one of his best. Set in the year 273 AD, the plot shows the Roman Emperor Aurelian defeating the city of Palmyra in battle, but unable to quell either its queen Zenobia or her (fictional) lover Arsace, whose loyalty to one another eventually causes the Emperor to show mercy towards them both; despite the high-flown rhetoric, the result feels a little cold. There is undoubtedly good music on the way, though this live recording from the 2017 Rossini in Wildbad Festival is in limited sound, and neither the choral singing nor the orchestral playing are special: at times conductor José Miguel Pérezsierra struggles to keep his forces precisely together. Uneven singing, too, from the cast. At the top end is vital tenor Juan Francisco Gatell as Aurelian, with the fluent Silvia Dalla Benetta (Zenobia) and Marina Viotti (Arsace), both accomplished. George Hall