Arias for Silvio Garghetti: The Habsberg Star Tenor

Markus Miesenberger, Neue Wiener Hofkapelle
Pan Classics PC 10372

This is an interesting but ultimately seriously flawed project that leaves too many unanswered questions. Austrian tenor Markus Miesenberger has delved into the archives to research a tenor active at the Imperial court in the early years of 18th century, originally identified in the score of an opera by Giovanni Bononcini only by the name Silvio. Further research allowed Miesenberger to establish that this was almost certainly Silvio Garghetti, probably the member of a musical family who in the early years of the new century came to Vienna, where in 1705 he married the daughter of vice-Kapellmeister Marc’ Antonio Ziani, whose serenata La Flora  was given the following year. Interestingly La Flora  also features an aria by the Emperor Joseph I, a pleasing, light-hearted piece included on the present CD along with the Ziani. No further biographical detail has come to light, it being recorded only that ‘Silvio sang in numerous performances of operas and oratorios between 1706 and 1719’, making the assertion that he was a ‘star’ tenor at least questionable.

So far so good. Despite the lack of hard facts the hypothesis is at least tenable. However it is when Miesenberger attempts to tie Garghetti’s name to the arias on the disc that everything starts to unravel. Although he calls the source of all the arias recorded here operas, it is impossible to identify a significant number of them as such. I suspect that these pieces are rather dramatic cantatas or the kind of single-act serenata with a licenza that were popularly used to celebrate Imperial birthdays and so on. This suspicion is enhanced by the number of arias that have only sparse or continuo accompaniment, several of which also include obbligato parts. Miesenberger’s carelessness with nomenclature arouses suspicions about his scholarship that are compounded when one realises that his notes fail to mention that Garghetti was not the only ‘star’ tenor at the Viennese court during this period. Both Antonio Borosini and his son Francesco, Handel’s first Bajazet in Tamerlano, were employed there, the former nearing the end of his career, the latter just starting his. It is therefore a near certainty that given the lack of data, at least some of the arias recorded here were written for one or other Borosini. That certainly applies to the somewhat undistinguished ‘Di mia glorie’ from Francesco Conti’s Alba Cornelia  of 1714, which is a 3-act opera. Both Borosinis sang in it and given the extremely unlikely scenario that the opera included three tenor roles, it cannot have been composed for Garghetti. Indeed on the evidence provided here, it would not be possible to claim indisputably that any of these arias were composed for him.

Leaving aside the suspect research, the operas and other dramatic works of the Imperial court have to date received little attention, with the likes of Fux and Caldara better known for their sacred works. But the Bononcini brothers, Antonio Maria and particularly his elder brother Giovanni both produced important dramatic works for Joseph I in the first decade of the century. Five arias by them are included. Otherwise an aria by Conti, the court theorbist, from his 3 act opera Il finto policare  (1716) especially catches the ear by way of gentle descending sequential figures, but truth to tell there is little here that would set the Danube on fire.

That impression may at least in part be conveyed by Miesenberger’s performances. Although his lyric tenor is intrinsically quite pleasing he does not display the technique nor the necessary Italianate elegance and fluency for this repertoire. His way with embellishment is frequently perfunctory, with poorly articulated turns and some unstylish ornamentation of repeats; there’s a particularly wild example in the da capo of Antonio Bononcini’s Arminio  (1706), an opera (?) not listed in the composer’s New Grove  worklist. The Neue Wiener Hofkapelle provide efficient if hardly inspiring support, being in any case far too small an ensemble to do justice to the more fully scored arias that do come from operas that were originally written for an orchestra that employed up to 30 strings. In sum, I fear that this is a well-meaning but unsatisfactory attempt to cast light on a repertoire certainly in need of further investigation.

Brian Robins

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