Opera is a big art form: elaborate sets; high, occasionally overwrought, drama; large orchestras; and, of course, the singers. So what happens to this art form when almost everything is stripped away and the melodies are recreated by a simple duo of piano and trumpet? On the evidence of Opera, the first duo project from pianist Danilo Rea and trumpeter Flavio Boltro, what happens is something rather special.
Rea and Boltro have been friends for many yearsboth come from northern Italy, were educated in classical music (Rea at the Santa Cecilia Academy in Rome and Boltro at the Turin Academy) and share a love of jazz. For Opera, they have selected works from Italian composers of the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries. The music was recorded at Schloss Elmau in Bavaria, four of the tunes coming from a live concert performance. As with previous albums recorded at the Schloss, including Rea's stunning solo album, A Tribute To Fabrizio De André (ACT, 2010), sound quality is superb on both the studio and live tracks and highlights the beautiful quality of tone that both musicians possess.
The original melodies remain central to these interpretations. "E Lucevan Le Stelle," by Giacomo Puccini, is a strikingly beautiful example of this, the players drawing out the beauty of the melody in a simple but effective arrangement. But there are also plenty of opportunities for improvisation that both Rea and Boltro are happy to take. Gioacchino Rossini's "Sinfonia dal Barbiere di Siviglia" is an excellent example from the studio tracks. The familiar melody is played strongly, but Rea and Boltro find space for improvisation.
Giordani's "Caro Mio Ben" is beautifully-judged, with some skilful improvisational flourishes. The players' take on the melody emphasizes the tune's possible role as an inspiration for the iconic protest song "We Shall Overcome." The players save their wildest and most original improvisations for one of the live performancesRossini's "Sinfonia del Gugliemo Tell." They weave in and out of the familiar melody with short bursts of boogie, bop and even free-jazz flourishes; constantly surprising, and clearly delighting, the audience.
Opera sports yet another striking piece of cover art, by Thomas Scheibitz, in keeping with ACT's fine tradition of combining music and visual arts. Rea and Boltro keep up a similar tradition, combining jazz and European opera with great invention and superb technique.
Lasciatemi Morire; Toccata from Orfeo; Dal Tuo Stellato Soglio; Vaga Luna Che Inargenti; Sinfonia dal Barbiere di Siviglia; Caro Mio Ben; Piango, Gemo, Sospiro e Peno; E Lucevan le Stelle; O Mio Babbino Caro; Casta Diva; Sonfonia dal Guglielmo Tell; Io Son L'Umile Ancella.