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Music label Capriccio has a mission to unearth lesser-known works, and three lovely performances reveal some hidden treasures. Fans of Jonas Kaufmann and Christian Gerhaher may be interested in Johann Joseph Abert’s opera Ekkehard, as both singers appear in this recording made early in their careers. To be honest, Gerhaher has such a small role you could pop the kettle on and miss him. But Kaufmann takes the title role so has much to do. It is a strange but rather fabulous opera, premiered in 1878, and has one of those complicated plots that requires much re-reading; basically it’s about a devout 10th-century German monk who reads Virgil (seemingly a bit racy for the times), turns warrior against both heathen and Hun, and drives men insane with jealousy and women wild with desire without even trying – on Teutonic Tinder everyone’s swiping right for Ekkehard. (Maybe it’s the name.)

The music is large-scale, there are five acts full of great ensembles, some graceful cavatinas and many a good tune – there is a lot to like. Sadly, there is no libretto. It is strange listening to Kaufmann as recorded live in this 1998 concert. The voice is recognisably his, but it sounds so young and bright. Understandable – it is over 20 years ago – but it also makes one realise how his later baritonal quality has been fostered as a style, or mannerism, rather than through purely natural vocal development. The surrounding cast is good – it features mezzo Mihoko Fujimura on her way to fame – and conductor Peter Falk has a firm grip on proceedings. No, not that Peter Falk. It is mad, but not that mad. A final thought: didn’t the Huns sweep through Europe in the 5th century? I told you the booklet was rubbish.

Francis Muzzu Read the full review on Agora Classica

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