Galuppi: Gustavo Primo

Review by: Robert Levine

Artistic Quality: 5

Sound Quality: 7

In the booklet that accompanies this release, regarding Galuppi’s (and Goldoni’s, the librettist’s) output during a certain period, the writer states that “…seventeen [operas] written within seven years means that you cannot expect originality and coherence from the librettist or the composer.” Well, Gustavo Primo comes from an earlier, opera seria period in Galuppi’s life, but like Il mondo all reversa, reviewed here several months ago (type Q3969 in Search Reviews), its appeal is nothing short of baffling. I can only imagine that the Venetians had to be entertained constantly during the 1740s and ’50s and that like American audiences did with the television series Hee-Haw or Laverne and Shirley, they took what they were given. Gustavo Primo is as dull as dirt, with King Gustav disguised as Learco until the last minute “To make the tyrant believe he has one less enemy.” But his disguise means that he was accidentally betrothed to his sister Clotilde, disguised as Dorisbe, etc. It’s excruciating.

Add to this the endless da capo arias (does it really have to take 10 minutes for a character to state “Crying like this is unworthy of you”?), predictable rhythms and orchestration (except for some fine hunting horns sprinkled about), and about 25 percent of the opera in dry recitative, and this is an almost wrist-slitting, or at least snooze-inducing, experience. The cast is excellent if slightly bored-sounding. Each member is adept at coloratura singing, Monika Gonzalez has a genuinely pretty voice, and tenor Filippo Pina Castiglioni delivers his arias in an almost haute-contre head voice that is somehow appealing, while fellow-tenor Mario Cecchetti is more manly as Learco/Gustav, and Gabriellla Letai Kiss has a mezzo voice worth hearing again elsewhere.

Fabio Pirona gets very nice playing from his Savaria Baroque Orchestra, including the horns, but he can’t breathe life into this dead duck. Some works aren’t worthy of revival and it’s pretty clear that if Vivaldi hadn’t died, there would have been little room or need for Galuppi in Venice. He’s the operatic equivalent of an old-time B-movie director (and I don’t mean the masters of film noir). He knows his craft, but the fact that he is no longer considered important is hardly an accident. Sorry to be so negative, but I can think of many better things to do with 136 minutes. This is for die-hard Rococo-nuts only.



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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: none

BALDASSARE GALUPPI - Gustavo Primo, Re di Svezia


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