Marcos Portugal: Lo Spazzacamino

Review by: Robert Levine

Artistic Quality: 7

Sound Quality: 6

This is the second opera by this Portuguese composer (who made his reputation in Naples, composed dozens of operas, and died in 1830) to appear on CD. The first, Le donne cambiate, was released by Naxos. What these works lack in depth they make up for in a type of charm; both are tuneful and brief, à la Cimarosa. This plot concerns a Marchese (tenor) who is in love with and jealous of Donna Flora (soprano). When a chimney-sweep (the spazzacamino of the title) named Pierotto (bass) arrives, he puts on the Marquis’ clothes leaving his own sooty rags in the Marquis’ chamber which the Marquis decides to put on, to go to Donna Flora’s and check up on her. Later, a dentist shows up, a maid (Rosina, soprano) gets into the act…well, you get it. The arias are light and at times require some virtuosity, there are a couple of sophisticated duets (one in which the soprano/Flora darts around in staccato), a fine 5-part ensemble shows up two-thirds of the way through the opera (in which lots of plot lines are explained), the finale (15 minutes long) is through-composed, and a good time is had by those who like such things.

The cast delivers its recitative–and there’s plenty of it (about a third of the opera)–with pointed emphasis, good diction, and energy (this is a live performance). Sergio Spina, as the Marquis, displays a nice tenor and Andrea Porta’s Pierotto, with a healthy, rounded bass-baritone, makes you want to hear more from him. Both women have slightly too much acid in their tones but they are accomplished singers. However, we get the feeling that the entire group is working hard to convince us of the value of this work, with many phrases aurally underlined. Conductor Alvaro Cassuto may be responsible for that imbalance, but his orchestra plays well for him and the ensemble never flags. This is a marginal release by a somewhat marginally typical composer of the period, but Portugal is a skillful orchestrator and knows how to write for the voice. The sound quality does no one any favors. If you don’t want to take the two-CD-at-full-price plunge, but you’re interested, try Portugal’s one-CD, bargain opera on Naxos. [4/3/2002]

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: none

MARCOS PORTUGAL - Lo Spazzacamino

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