Recording of the Week Pacini and the importance of first performances
I have been doing some research this week into the performance history of Pacini's Alesandro nell'Indie - the reason being a new recording out in December on Opera Rara. Pacini was a composer of the Bel canto era (which I talked about last week in connection with Maria Malibran). Astonishingly it is believed that he wrote over 70 operas. Only a handful have ever been recorded so the appearance of a new one is something to shout about.
Furthermore, Alessandro nell'Indie was an important work for Pacini as it marked a turning point in his career. It was the first commission he received from the influential Teatro San Carlo in Naples, and the premiere in 1824 brought Pacini one of the most anxious evenings of his career. The audience sat on its hands, unwilling to approve or disapprove until it had heard the music a second time. Indeed, at the end of the evening the balance appeared to be dipping in the composer’s disfavour, for ill-suppressed hissing circulated around the auditorium. The eventual success was owing to the personal intervention of King Ferdinand IV at the second performance. He led the applause, so ensuring a triumph that led to a run of 70 consecutive performances and established Pacini as one of the city’s favourite composers.
It seems amazing that Pacini's success was so dependent on the approval of just one man, and although he is not regarded in the top league of opera composers these days his influence on his contemporaries and those that followed him cannot be underestimated. Bellini for one described him as 'the composer with the most genius in Italy'.
Of course a negative reaction at a premiere doesn't always spell disaster - Stravinsky's 1913 Rite of Spring premiere being the most famous example to contradict this - but equally there must be similar examples from other composers where a negative reaction at the premiere resulted in the work (and maybe also the composer) being long forgotten, and in some cases that initial reaction might now be considered incorrect. Those works might now be completely lost, or sitting in a library archive somewhere still waiting for re-discovery.
The label Opera Rara does some remarkable work in this area, unearthing a series of treasures long since forgotten. In this case it was in the years after the premiere that the work was forgotten, but it is still fantastic to have the opportunity to hear it again.
While it is not going to return to the repertoire in the same way that operas like Bellini’s Il pirata or Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda did when they were rediscovered in the 1950s and 60s it is still very enjoyable listening, particularly because of the very strong cast superbly led by Bruce Ford and Jennifer Larmore.
Bruce Ford, Jennifer Larmore, Laura Claycomb, Dean Robinson & Mark Wilde, London Philharmonic Orchestra & Geoffrey Mitchell Choir, David Parry
Available Formats: SACD, MP3, CD Quality FLAC