Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Pergolesi - Lo Frate 'Nnamorato - Riccardo Muti, La Scala

 

 

It's scarcely possible to speak of an 'early work' in the case of a composer who died at the age of 26, but Lo frate 'nnamorato was only the second opera of the ill-starred Pergolesi. Unlike his more famous La serva padrona of the following year (1733), which was merely an intermezzo within an opera seria, this was a full-length three-act commedia musicale which originally included an independent intermezzo and ballet (both lost, unfortunately)—not, as is emphasized by Francesco Degrada (who edited the work for the new Pergolesi critical edition), an opera buffa, as it is often called. I found it just possible to follow the plot—a tangle of three arranged marriages between a Roman and a Neapolitan family which all the girls resist (all three being in love with the same young man who has been brought up as the adopted brother of one and is eventually found to be a long-lost brother of the other two), with various complications of a licentious fop, scheming maidservants and feigned jealousies—by drawing a chart for myself of the characters and their relationships to each other. Things are made no easier by there being six female voices and by the Roman family's servant, Vannella, speaking Neapolitan (as of course does the Naples family). Fear not—all is translated.

Alleged portrait of Pergolesi presented by his biographer Florimo to the Naples Conservatory Some occasional distant laughter (especially at farcical events at the end of Act 2) from the very well-behaved Scala audience, and its hearty applause at the ends of acts, make it clear that on stage this must all have been very entertaining, and even bereft of vision the performance comes across with gusto. A little of the music is familiar through its use by Stravinsky in Pulcinella, and the ''enamoured brother's'' aria ''Ogni pena'' was once a favourite party-piece for male singers (collectors may remember a recording by de Luca), though here the part is taken, as in the original, by a soprano. Several of the solos are folky and simple, written in a bare top-and-bass texture (the ear often longs for some inner harmonic filling), but the upper-middle-class Roman sisters Nena and Nina have real dramma per musica arias (somewhat like Fiordiligi and Dorabella). Da capo form predominates, the reprises enlivened here by decorations (especially brilliant in Nina's ''Ti scaccio'' and Ascanio's ''Che boglio parlare''); and the orchestra consists only of strings and continuo except for Nena's long florid aria which opens Act 3, when a solo flute makes a welcome appearance. There are few ensembles, but one of the best numbers in the whole opera is the delightful Act 2 trio ''Se il foco mio'', which is sung with great spirit.

The sisters have the most developed music, and Felle and Manca di Nissa are both admirable, as is Focile as the young man whose affection for them both proves to have been fraternally inspired. Special mention should be made of d'Intino's rich-toned voice in her ''Morta tu mme vuoie vedere'', and the two maid-servants squabble and quarrel in fruity Naples back-street style (Vannella's aria ''Chi disse ca la femmena''—wrongly listed in the World Encyclopedia of Recorded Music III as the trio—is unusual in being in three differently-paced sections). The men are less notable: the part of the gouty old plebeian Neapolitan obviously calls for broad treatment, but it may be felt that Corbelli hams it up rather too much (at least to the ear alone) and he drags his big aria ''Gioia mia''; the intonation of di Cesare (the 'straight man') is not as exact as it might have been; and di Simone, as the pretentious and affected Don Pietro, is content to sing at one level of loudness throughout. However, as a whole the opera is reasonably well served; and this recording brings to life a work which for the most part has been known only by repute.-- Lionel Salter, Gramophone

  In 2010, the music world celebrates Pergolesi's 300th birthday.

CD INFO

 

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