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Even before its premiere, Spontini’s Olimpie certainly didn’t garner great approbation: this is a recording of the composer’s second revision of his opera, (1826), based on Voltaire’s play Olympie. ‘Ear splitting effect’ and ‘a noisy combat between drums and trumpets’ were criticisms of the time. Tastes change, and many listeners today may find the exuberant instrumentation quite exciting, almost Beethovenian. Olimpie gets off to a confident start, and the thrills flare up every so often. Spontini marshals his forces with confidence, and the conductor here, Jérémie Rhorer, follows suits. But despite a series of enjoyable and tuneful numbers, particularly ensembles – the finale of Act II is particularly adept – there is a certain falling off of inspiration at times. Numbers meander, as do recitatives. Spontini is often considered a precursor to the grand opéra formula that set in from around 1830 and seemingly led him to abandon the operatic form: but with the fortunes of its cast being buffeted by the greater events surrounding them, Olimpie seems an important link between the Classical and Romantic genres. The cast is very good if not quite excellent. A bit more dash, or even vulgarity, wouldn’t come amiss. Mezzo Kate Aldrich’s lively Statira comes the closest, and Karina Gauvin in the title role sings seductively if a little politely – Mathias Vidal’s Cassandre perhaps reflects the more graceful charms of the 1826 tenor, Nourrit, when we expect a more virile tone today.

Francis Muzzu Read the full review on Agora Classica

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