First performed at the Burgtheater in Vienna in 1776 La passione di nostro Signore Gesu Cristo is a work of Salieri’s early maturity. It’s a passion oratorio but one that gorges on operatic convention to make its powerfully dramatic points. If it’s further to be anatomised, the traditional recitative-aria and solo and chorus block voicings also faithfully follow operatic form and so Azione sacra is as good a term as oratorio to describe Salieri’s work.
Interesting that the librettist of this oratorio, none other than Pietro Metastasio, avoids biblical passages completely. In doing so, this lets in an emotive realism that allows a quasi-operatic treatment by Prague-born Myslivecek. The composer's penchant for Metastasio in his thirty-odd operas obviously extended to oratorio. The apostle Peter becomes a major figure in the drama. Absent from the crucifixion itself, he has to make urgent enquiry into the state of play. Enter Mary Magdalene - a Biblical character under much re-evaluation in current spirituality - who accompanied Jesus to the cross. Other characters include John (here of course Giovanni), the second eyewitness, Joseph of Arimathea (Giuseppe).
JJohann Gottlieb Naumann, a contemporary of Joseph Haydn, was associated with Dresden, worked in Sweden and travelled in Italy. In his Passione di Gesù Cristo he concentrates on smaller scale emotions and conflicts – albeit in the context of the (conventional) Passion story. It was written, probably, in 1767. That’s quite an undertaking for a twenty-six year old, although Naumann already had several other vocal and choral successes to his name.
It's not exactly made clear in the packaging and notes, but this appears to be the first item in what would seem to be a massive series leading up to the bicentennial of Haydn's birth in 2032. How will music be acquired in 2032? Will it be directly transferred to the brain from the neurocloud? Be that as it may, the historical-instrument group Il Giardino Armonico and its leader Giovanni Antonini make one curious to hear what's coming down the pike. The plan is to place Haydn in a "thematic dialogue with other composers."
La Passione is a British 1996 drama film written and produced by Chris Rea, directed by John B. Hobbs, and starring Sean Gallagher, Paul Shane and Shirley Bassey. The film premiered on 14 November 1996 at the BFI London Film Festival. The film features a cameo appearance by Rea, as well the same-titled soundtrack also composed by him. On the film soundtrack Shirley Bassey provides vocals on two tracks. Recorded in 1995, 'La Passione' is a modern classic, with both contemporary and orchestral pieces sewn together by a film clip for each track and a story loosely based on dreams Chris had as a young boy growing up in the industrial North East.
Niccolò Jommelli is a composer whose significance in his own time has strangely not endured. His importance as an innovator in the field of opera is probably as significant as that of Gluck, in the generation immediately following. He was particularly important in the development of orchestrally accompanied recitative, a feature that is apparent throughout this oratorio. Indeed, the orchestral importance is one of the highlights of the disc, for, while the singing is excellent, the playing of the Berliner Barock Akademie is outstanding. There are also several excellently played aria obbligatos. This is the second feature of Jommelli’s writing that comes across as reason for surprise at his neglect. The writing in his arias is both melodically beautiful and extensively developed; many of the arias are seven or eight minutes long, yet with no padding of sequences. The demands that this places on the soloists is considerable, and they are a uniformly excellent group, Anke Herrmann and Jeffrey Francis in particular rising to the challenge of some exceptional demands with panache.
Giovanni Paisiello, whose works Mozart thought enough of to study closely, was mostly forgotten in the nineteenth century, and this Passione de Gesù Cristo remained buried until 1998. This is its second recording; a Polish version on the Arts label, from that year, is also available. The oratorio's text is by the preeminent operatic librettist of the eighteenth century, Pietro Metastasio. One can easily understand why the work has never had a critical mass of general listeners, but for those interested in Mozart's world it's truly fascinating. This passion story features neither Jesus nor Pontius Pilate, nor any of the other usual personages. Instead it takes place after Christ's crucifixion, recounted by St. John, Joseph of Arimatea, and Mary Magdalene (in surely her biggest part until Jesus Christ Superstar came along) to St. Peter, with the accompaniment of a chorus of Christ's other followers; in the second part, all bewail the corruption of Jerusalem and look forward to Christ's resurrection.