The Misteri d'Elx (Mystery Play of Elche) is a religious drama performed annually in the southeastern Spanish city of Elche (or Elx in the local dialect) since medieval times. The play reenacts the Assumption of Mary in a two-act musical production, entirely sung, that takes place over two successive days in August. The Mystery Play is a major European tourist attraction, and UNESCO in 2001 named it a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. With typical boldness, Jordi Savall and La Capella Reial de Catalunya plunge into a slice of the musical past that is rewarding yet raises complex issues in performance. Here, however, the group is not resurrecting a half-buried tradition but rather dealing with one that is living.
Violist Luigi Alberto Bianchi specializes in performances on historical instruments–that is, instruments that have historical value, not period instruments. In these recordings from 1973 and 1980, he plays the Gran Viola by Amati (1595), stolen in Milan a few weeks after the second recording session released on this CD, and never found since. Because of the unusual size and length of the fingerboard, this unique instrument was especially difficult to play, but also extremely rewarding in terms of tonal beauty and depth of sonority.
When Donizetti’s comedy, updated to the mid-20th century by the Uruguayan-born director Mario Gas, was mounted at Barcelona’s magnificent Liceu opera house in 2005, Opera News wrote that: “The absolute hit of the production was … Rolando Villazón, a commanding, vulnerable and hilarious Nemorino. His stage presence dominated every scene he was in …[and] his lovable innocence was a joy to behold. Villazón’s perfect technique and creamy, malleable voice conquered the audience … His athletic and expressive body language–midway between Cantinflas and Mr. Bean–fits this role and this production perfectly.” The Mexican tenor, making his debut at the Liceu, was called upon the encore the opera’s most famous aria, the plaintive ‘Una furtiva lagrima’.
Tenor superstar Juan Diego Flórez adds the role of Prince Ramiro in Rossini’s sparkling comedy La Cenerentola to his rapidly growing catalog of performances on Decca. In Joan Font’s strikingly colorful, toy-town staging, he is joined by one of today’s great Cinderellas, the American mezzo-soprano, Joyce DiDonato. The two have wowed audiences with their virtuoso performances in the Metropolitan Opera’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia which was broadcast live in HD to movie theaters and on PBS.