A splendid new account of Rossini’s dramatic, art-defining work.
Graham Rogers 2011
There is no shortage of good recordings of Rossini's Stabat Mater, but few do this gloriously uplifting work as much justice as Antonio Pappano's new recording with the forces of Santa Cecilia, Rome, and an exceptionally strong solo quartet. The line-up, which boasts some of the greatest bel canto – and specifically Rossinian – singers of the day, tackles the work with a sensitivity and flair matched by few others.
An opera composer to his bones, Rossini had, with characteristic eccentricity, decided to retire at the age of only 37. Perhaps the phenomenal achievement of having written over 30 operas in the space of just 19 years, many of which were – and still are – wildly popular, had left him feeling burnt out. True to his word, he never wrote another opera. But his irrepressible operatic spirit permeates the few pieces he did go on to compose, none more so than the magnificent Stabat Mater, completed in 1841. With its magical fusion of heartfelt solemnity and devotion with theatrical drama and joyous melodies, some even argue that this work represents the summation of Rossini's art; listening to this new recording it is hard to disagree. Pappano and company really understand its idiomatic style like no one else on disc.
There is a compelling commitment to this performance. The opening chorus, with its hushed cloak-and-dagger atmosphere punctuated by dramatic outbursts, showcases choral singing of a terrific intensity that pins you to your seat. After a sternly forbidding orchestral introduction, the sun comes out from behind the clouds for the first time in the tenor aria Cujus animam gementem. Lawrence Brownlee captures the nobility of the glorious and unmistakeably Italian melody. Soprano Anna Netrebko and mezzo Joyce DiDonato at times seem almost impossibly sweet-voiced, blending sublimely in the sumptuous duet Quis est homo, full of impassioned longing. The darkly rich, stentorian tones of bass Ildebrando d'Arcangelo are heard to marvellous effect in his aria Pro peccatis suae gentis, which also displays great subtlety. Stellar soloists are often poor team players, but here all four work supremely together: the radiant quartet Sancta mater is an absolute joy, aided by Pappano's buoyant (but never trivialising) accompaniment.
If you already love this wonderful work, you certainly won't want to be without Pappano's splendid new account; if you have yet to discover it, there is no better place to start.