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Ferdinando Paer

1 disc set

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It is generally acknowledged that Rossini’s arrival on the musical scene changed the face of Italian opera. Everyone imitated him and his fresh approach to opera. But what was Italian opera like... read more

Song title Time Format Price
playstop01 Sofonisba: Act I scena I: Introduzione: O dell'armi gran Nume possente - scena II: Anche in mezzo ? - scena III: Che mai ? - scena IV:02:08
playstop02 Sofonisba: Act I scena V: Recitativo: Infelice! Ahi! Chi mi dice 02:56
playstop03 Sofonisba: Act I scena V: Recitativo: Viva ? - scena VI: Viva ? - scena VII: Pronto ? - scena VIII: Una fallace - scena IX: Muoia ? 03:00
playstop04 Sofonisba: Act I scena IX: Aria: Amo un volto lusinghiero 02:57
playstop05 Sofonisba: Act I scena IX: Aria: Vuoi ch'io vada ? - scena X: Sofonisba non osi - scena XI: Ecco il Duce ? - scena XII: Oh qual ? 05:55
playstop06 Sofonisba: Act I scena XII: Aria: Io saprei con alma forte - Final scena: Ho risoluto. 06:52
playstop07 Sofonisba: Act I scena XII: Terzetto: Una soave calma 04:00
playstop08 Sofonisba: Act I scena XII: Terzetto: Perfidi indegni! 02:54
playstop09 Sofonisba: Act I scena XII: Terzetto: Caro, sposo, io t'amo ancora - Act II scena I: Scipione, gia in campo sono - scena II: Ah! Fermati, Siface 04:12
playstop10 Sofonisba: Act II scena II: Duetto: Or vorrai ferirmi, ingrato 03:39
playstop11 Sofonisba: Act II scena II: Duetto: Anche in mezzo - scena III: La Regina ? - scena IV: Perche ? 02:21
playstop12 Sofonisba: Act II scena VIII: Quatetto: La virtu del Roman Duce 04:14
playstop13 Sofonisba: Act II scena VIII: Quartetto: Dopo fiera - scena IX: Numi, assistenza - scena X: Ove, Lelio 03:07
playstop14 Sofonisba: Act II scena X: Aria: Da tanto duolo, e spasimo 04:12
playstop15 Sofonisba: Act II scena X: Aria: Vado a svenar quel perfido 03:21
playstop16 Sofonisba: Act II scena XI: Aria: Possente Nume armigero 02:46
playstop17 Sofonisba: Act II scena XI: Scena: O bellicoso Dio, del tuo gran tempio 04:21
playstop18 Sofonisba: Act II scena XI: Scena: Ah consorte! Ah figli! 03:35
playstop19 Sofonisba: Act II scena XI: Scena: Se la patria a me die vita - Final scena: Massinissa e vivo 03:36
playstop20 Sofonisba: Act II scena XI: Finale: Grande Eroe! Pentito io sono 02:52

It is generally acknowledged that Rossini’s arrival on the musical scene changed the face of Italian opera. Everyone imitated him and his fresh approach to opera. But what was Italian opera like prior to this renaissance? Operas were being written but composers were still working with 18th century tools. While denying neither the genius of Rossini nor his position in the Romantic Movement in Italian opera, composers such as the Bavarian Giovanni Simone Mayr and the Parma-born Ferdinando Paer were already reshaping the operatic traditions laid down by Haydn and Mozart. Sofonisba, a classical heroine portrayed by various 17th and 18th century composers, becomes, in Paer’s hands, a more realistic figure – a real woman. When circumstances turn against her she takes poison and it is here that Paer seizes the opportunity for something exceptional. The emotionally charged, multi-movement final scene for Sofonisba was something audiences had never encountered before.The impact of these performances of Sofonisba was not lost on Rossini – the opera was revived 15 years later in Naples for his wife, the great Isabella Colbran. In a period when audiences demanded only new operas it seems an extraordinary testament to the innovations of Ferdinando Paer.

Booklet includes complete libretto, with recorded music shown in coloured text, with English translation.

'Opera Rara's advocacy of a neglected composer proves once again to be well founded' - Gramophone

Jennifer Larmore (Sofonisba), Paul Nilon (Siface), Rebecca Evans (Massinissa), Mirco Palazzi (Scipione), Lelio (Colin Lee), Osmida (Lucy Crowe), Philharmonia Orchestra, Marco Guidarini – conductor

Before ever the opera begins, Sofonisba (Sophonisba), the extremely beautiful daughter of the Carthaginian general Asdrubale (Hasdrubal), had been betrothed to Massinissa, the pro-Roman king of one part of Numidia.  Her father, however, an implacable opponent of Rome, had broken off the match, and instead insisted that she marry Siface (Syphax), king of Cirta, a city in a different area of the country.  Siface, before entering into this union, had also been a supporter of Rome and a close friend of the Roman consul in Africa, Scipione (Scipio Africanus).  But now, coming under the anti-Roman influence of his wife, he has taken up arms in the Second Punic War and fought against his former allies, only to find himself, as the opera opens, defeated and captured.

Act I, Scene 1

Scipione’s followers celebrate his victory over Siface.   Scipione himself, however, is unable to forget that his prisoner was once his friend, and consequently strikes off his chains and tries to reason with him.  His gesture does not meet with any very sympathetic response, for Siface is desperate at the thought that Massinissa, his arch enemy ever since their rivalry over Sofonisba, will now rule over Cirta.  Scipione, left alone, reveals his concern that Sofonisba may seek to repair her fortunes  by trying to reingratiate herself with Massinissa.

Scene 2

Sofonisba, as yet ignorant of the turn the war has taken, hears sounds of celebration approaching, and hopes that they herald the victorious return of Siface.  To her distress it is not her husband who enters triumphantly but Massinissa.  She tries to withdraw, but he holds her back, for he is still deeply in love with her.  He reports that Siface fought bravely in battle, but whether or not he still lives he does not know.  Sofonisba realises with increasing dismay that she is now a prisoner of Rome, and will very probably be carried to Italy to grace Scipione’s triumph.  She pleads with Massinissa to protect her – which he is very ready to do, provided that she will marry him.  He departs to join Scipione, leaving her in more confusion and distress than ever.

Scene 3

Siface, still a prisoner though permitted his freedom within the palace of Cirta, encounters Massinissa.  They immediately clash over Sofonisba, Massinissa boasting that very soon she will be his wife, and Siface appalled and enraged that there should be any suggestion that she could so betray him. 

Massinissa now finds himself admonished by Scipione, still concerned that his love for Sofonisba could jeopardise his loyalty to Rome.  Massinissa seeks to justify himself, pointing out that he and Sofonisba entertained a genuine passion for each other before she was forced to wed Siface.  He declares his intention, now that she will almost certainly find herself a free agent once more, of marrying her and protecting her.  Scipione disillusions him, confirming his intention of taking her a prisoner to Rome.  Massinissa consequently finds himself in an irresolvable dilemma: whether to follow the promptings of love or to submit to the dictates of Rome.

Scene 4

Sofonisba and Scipione come face to face.  Scipione loftily declares her the slave of Rome; she, in defiance, insists that she will remain free and opposed to Rome until her dying day.  

Encountering Massinissa once more, Sofonisba now tells him that she can never wed him while he remains allied to Rome.  Love proves stronger than loyalty, and he succumbs, switching his allegiance and swearing eternal opposition to Rome and loyalty to Carthage.  Their differences apparently resolved, they fall into each other’s arms – only to be seen by an understandably shocked and angry Siface.  The act ends in typical irresolution as he comes forward and reveals himself.  The two men defy each other, while Sofonisba tries to extricate herself from her predicament and reintegrate herself in Siface’s good graces.

Act II, Scene 1

Scipione, preparing for further warfare, regrets that he will now have Massinissa as his enemy rather than as his ally.  He orders that Sofonisba be brought in chains before the Roman army.

Scene 2

Sofonisba is still trying to effect a reconciliation with Siface, insisting that she looked towards Massinissa as a possible protector only when she believed her husband dead.   But Siface remains unconvinced.  He declares that he could happily slay her, and Sofonisba, taking him at his word, presents him with her dagger.  Before ever he can strike the blow, however, their two young children run on and throw themselves into Sofonisba’s arms, effectually protecting her.  The sight of his two children dissipates Siface’s anger, and he declares that he still loves Sofonisba as much as ever.

Scene 3

Scipione is displeased to find that Sofonisba has not been put in chains, as he had ordered.  He reproaches her for her evil influence upon Massinissa, but she replies that, now that she knows that Siface still lives, she cares nothing for Massinissa: all her love is for her husband.  Scipione orders his soldiers to seize her, but before they can do so, Massinissa comes to her defence.  He expects her to greet him with relief and affection, but is perplexed and dismayed to hear that she still loves Siface and is determined to remain a faithful wife.  Soon after he leaves, Osmida, Sofonisba’s confidante, comes to plead with her and Scipione to accompany her to the palace in all urgency.  She has seen Massinissa on his way there, and suspects that he is guided  by some evil intent.

Scene 4

Within the royal apartments of the palace, Massinissa confronts Siface, presenting him with a sword and challenging him to fight to the death.  In the ensuing fray Massinissa falls, but before Siface can deliver his death blow Scipione and Sofonisba arrive, Scipione threatening that, if Siface kills Massinissa, he himself will slay Sofonisba.  The result is an impasse – none of the characters can act for fear of the consequences – but at least their perplexity gives their tempers time to subside.  The situation is momentarily defused.

But only momentarily…  Sofonisba and Siface have scarcely departed together before Siface returns to announce that Sofonisba has disappeared.  He suspects that Massinissa has abducted her or subjected her to foul play, and he and Scipione depart in search of her.

Scene 5

In the Temple of Mars, while Sofonisba and the Numidian populace pray for peace, Sofonisba receives a note from Massinissa.  It informs her that the only way in which she will escape being led in triumph to Rome is through death.  He therefore urges her to drink a poison which he sends her, declaring that he himself intends to commit suicide upon his sword.  Sofonisba finds herself at a critical crossroads: whether to live for her husband and children – but be haled a prisoner to Rome – or whether to die.  She decides in favour of death, and drinks the poison.

Siface, Scipione, Osmida and Sofonisba’s children arrive.  Sofonisba reveals what she has done and bids all farewell.  Scipione is filled with awed admiration for her courage, and declares that if only she could live, he would in the name of Rome grant her both liberty and throne.  This is the cue for Osmida to inform everyone that Sofonisba will indeed live, for she herself, realising that Massinissa was sending her a poison, had substituted a totally harmless potion.  The relief of all is complete when Scipione’s lieutenant Lelio ushers in Massinissa, declaring that he has just succeeded in preventing him from committing suicide.  Siface and Sofonisba fall into each other’s arms, overjoyed at the prospect of recovering their throne.  Scipione and Massinissa are reconciled, Massinissa returning to his allegiance to Rome.  And Siface and Massinissa bury their differences and proffer each other the hand of friendship.  The opera ends in ‘the most perfect joy and happiness’.

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