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Germanico in Germania — ‘swashbuckling spirit’

Germanico in Germania — ‘swashbuckling spirit’

April 21
09:14 2018


Germanico in Germania

Capella Cracoviensis

(Decca Classics)

It is amusing to see how royalty used to have the time and inclination to meddle in the operatic life of London. When Frederick, Prince of Wales, wanted to oppose his father, George II, one of his ploys was to set up a rival opera company to the King’s Theatre, where Handel reigned with royal blessing.

Handel’s operas from that period are now to be found everywhere, but what of those from the rival “Opera of the Nobility”? Nicola Porpora, born in Naples, was the company’s chief composer, and his 60 or so operas are almost wholly forgotten.

Composed just before he came to London, Germanico in Germania gives us a good idea of what the Opera of the Nobility had to offer. Although the work is nominally an opera seria, it has a ludicrously contrived story of love and betrayal set during the Roman Empire and at over three hours presents little more than a shop window for its star singers.

Porpora’s speciality is fast, virtuoso arias, so the characters mostly spend their time upbraiding their lily-livered comrades or racing off to war. The cast at the premiere in Rome in 1732 would have been all male (a Papal decree did not allow women on the stage) and the majority of them castratos.

Female singers take most of the roles in this lively first recording alongside a counter-tenor Germanico. Max Emanuel Cencic does not have the most beautiful counter-tenor voice, but his panache in the title role is very welcome. Mary-Ellen Nesi, Dilyara Idrisova and Julia Lezhneva race up and down their scales with cut-glass precision, and Jan Tomasz Adamus conducts the Capella Cracoviensis with a swashbuckling spirit that sums up the whole enterprise.


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