Composers: Mercadante
Compositions: Didone Abbandonata
Performers: Academia Montis Regalis/Alessandro De Marchi
Catalogue Number: Naxos 2110630 (DVD),
NBD0095V (Blu-ray)

Before the highly-competent Saverio Mercadante (1795-1870) was writing fine sub-Verdian works such as Orazi e Curiazi, he was a bel canto wizard whose operas are as good as, if not better than many of Rossini’s. If Didone Abbandonata (1823) doesn’t reach the heights of Semiramide (composed the same year), this staging from the 2018 Innsbruck Festival of Early Music reveals a substantial work with catchy, well-crafted music.

Based on the tail-end of the Dido and Aeneas story, Metastasio’s treatment is unnecessarily burdened with romantic subplots. It does, however, contain reasonably rounded characters and the arias, duets and ensemble pieces are attractively varied if musico-dramatically long-winded. Sadly, Jürgen Flimm’s woeful production is a terrible mess. Set in a sort of 19th-century colonial Africa but with curious modern excrescences, it’s full of cringe-worthy ‘am-dram’ touches and a fussily revolving set.

Musically Mercadante is well served by Alessandro De Marchi’s solid conducting and fine period forces (though the natural horns are shockingly bad at times). The vocal standout is Katrin Wundsam’s rich, stylish Enea. Viktorija Mišku¯naite˙’s Didone is also pretty good, vocally impressive if short on gravitas. Both tenors struggle at the top. Good sound. Get it for Mercadante and Wundsam.