- Oedipe a Colonne, opera
Antonio Sacchini was an early composer of the classical era -- he studied with Francesco Durante -- whose place in the scheme of things was not established until relatively late in the classical game. Sacchini's posthumous fame rested chiefly on one work, the French opera seria "Oedipe à Colone." Premiered at the Paris Opéra in February 1787 -- a few months after Sacchini died -- "Oedipe à Colone" was seen as vindication for its composer, whose last years had been marked by straightened financial circumstances, declining popularity, and humiliating, public squabbling with his colleagues in London. Created on a commission from Marie Antoinette, the premiere of "Oedipe à Colone" was not given at Fontainebleau as she'd hoped, owing to political pressure. Sacchini died during this conflict and when the work finally opened, it was immediately hailed as a masterpiece; "Oedipe à Colone" remained in the repertoire until the 1820s, when all classical operas began to drop from the rolls. A belated revival of "Oedipe à Colone" in 1843 won the admiration of no less a figure than Hector Berlioz. It seems a bit curious that such a historically significant opera has waited so long for a recording, even as Sacchini's chamber music -- intended for commercial purposes and regarded by Sacchini himself as of no more than fleeting value -- has already appeared on disc. Ryan Brown and Opera Lafayette's Naxos recording of "Oedipe à Colone" narrowly missed on being the first of the work, as Italian label Dynamic managed to squeak out a recording led by Jean-Paul Pénin mere months before the Naxos made its bow. At the outset, the editions in use for the two recordings appear to be different; Opera Lafayette prepared its own, based on the second printed edition of the opera. It is unclear which edition Pénin referred to, though his performance is given on modern instruments and played at often blazing speeds; Pénin's reading of the first act Gavotte lasts 2:06, whereas Opera Lafayette takes 4:56 for the same movement. Moreover, the singers in the Dynamic recording are not very distinguished, whereas François Loup -- known for his fine bass voice on recordings with Michel Corboz in the 1990s -- leads the cast of the Naxos. Both recordings were made live; although Opera Lafayette's was combined from two performances and some parts of it were re-done after the Washington D.C.-based revival of the work, the first performance of "Oedipe à Colone" given in the United States. Among the foremost advantages of the Naxos recording -- not to mention its wider availability -- is its sheer dedication to this material, the passion of Ryan Brown's advocacy of the Sacchini and the overall sense of balance Opera Lafayette achieves in the performance as a whole. One can easily see what Berlioz found to admire in "Oedipe à Colone"; its seriousness of purpose and rapid turnover between the galant and more dramatic, Sturm and Dräng elements. Good examples of the latter may be heard both in the overture and in the scene in Act I where the goddesses utilize the High Priest to express their displeasure to the assembled multitude, complete with rattling thunder. At times "Oedipe à Colone"'s level of dramatic involvement is nearly reminiscent of Berlioz's own "Roméo et Juliette," and the most likely common thread is both composers' admiration of Gluck. Usually when one considers a classical-period opera on an ancient Greek theme, it immediately brings to mind something specific; a kind of vapid courtly entertainment designed to salve the egos of vain, wealthy kings and aristocrats long gone to their reward. "Oedipe à Colone" is anything but that; it is an involving and entertaining opera that is nearly as good as the best Mozart did in the genre, but nevertheless is entirely different from Mozart in approach. This is squarely in la manière française, and practically a textbook example of what that meant in the eighteenth century. Opera Lafayette's Naxos recording of "Oedipe à Colone" represents one of those relatively rare instances where an "unearthed gem" reveals an opera that once rightfully belonged to the main course, rather than just an interesting side dish.