Pratt/Ono/Adami/Ariostini/Virtuosi Brunensis/Fogliani(Naxos, 2 CDs)
Posterity has been unkind to Nicola Vaccaj (sometimes spelled Vaccai – 1790-1848). A voice teacher and composer, he is best known for his Practical Method of Italian Singing, published in 1832 and still used as a manual. However, in his day it was his operas that made him famous and frequently controversial. La Sposa di Messina, dealing with sibling incest, caused such outrage at its 1839 premiere, it was withdrawn after two performances and only saw the light of day again at the 2009 Wildbad festival, where this recording was made.
Vaccaj's source was Schiller's play Die Braut von Messina, about two brothers, poetic Emanuele and rapacious Cesare, feuding over Emanuele's mistress, Beatrice, but catastrophically unaware she is actually their long-lost sister. The real tragic protagonist of both play and opera, however, is Isabella, the mother of this hapless trio, who abandoned Beatrice at birth on hearing a prophecy that the girl would destroy her family, only to be faced, decades later, with the horrific realisation that it is coming true. Vaccaj is an attractive, if not particularly original, melodist. But his dramatic sense is exceptional, and the opera has an implacable momentum that makes it compelling.
Its appearance on disc is important enough to recommend it. You need, however, to make allowances for the recording. It's finely conducted by Antonio Fogliani, but the singing is variable, with the women better than the men. Filippo Adami is the four-square Emanuele, Armando Ariostini the vibrato-ridden Cesare. Wakako Ono's Beatrice sounds suitably alluring, but the star is Jessica Pratt as Isabella, fearsomely impressive in a big role bel canto divas should, by rights, have been queuing to sing for decades.
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