The best place to begin a review of an album titled Great Comedy Overtures would probably be with a definition of "comedy." My Random House Unabridged Dictionary defines the term as "a play, movie, etc., of light and humorous character with a happy or cheerful ending; a dramatic work in which the central motif is the triumph over adverse circumstance, resulting in a successful or happy conclusion." Not that there aren't comic operas that are pretty funny, but the emphasis for opera might be on the idea of triumph over adversity, with a successful or happy ending.
Such is the case with the eleven selections in the album under review, selections that include just about every famous comedy overture you can think of, all of them vigorously presented by Maestro Lance Friedel and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. A look at the track titles will give you the idea of the material:
1. Herold: Zampa
2. Nicolai: Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor
3. Wolf-Ferrari: Il segreto di Susanna
4. Thomas: Mignon
5. Reznicek: Donna Diana
6. Flotow: Martha
7. Auber: Fra Diavolo
8. Lortzing: Zar und Zimmermann
9. Cimarosa: Il matrimonio segreto
10. Adam: Si j'etais roi
11. Cornelius: Der Barbier von Bagdad (arr. F. Mottl for orchestra)
Favorites? Under Maestro Friedel, Nicolai's Merry Wives of Windsor has a lovely romantic spirit in its opening and a lively bounce in the Allegro section. Wolf-Ferrari's Il segreto di Susanna probably has the most-charming spirit of the bunch. Thomas's Mignon sounds most elegant. Since I grew up with Sergeant Preston of the Yukon, how could I fail to like Reznicek's Donna Dianna? Auber's Fra Diavolo shows plenty of spunk. And there's an appealing lightheartedness about Cimarosa's Il matrimonio segreto.
The total playing time for the disc is nearly eighty minutes (79:44), a most-generous number that approaches the limit of a standard CD.
Producer Tim Handley and engineer Phil Rowlands recorded the album at Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow, Scotland in January 2014. The producers seem to have miked this one for maximum realism rather than any kind of close-up clarity. The result is a little different and does, indeed, sound fairly lifelike. The orchestra shows up at a moderate distance, with lots of hall resonance to give it a properly natural bloom. Although detailing suffers somewhat and the sound appears a bit narrower and more muted than we usually hear from most modern recordings, there is a good depth of field and some strong dynamics involved.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here: