Notes and Editorial Reviews
This selection is a 2-disc set, containing an audio-only (i.e., with no video content) Blu-ray disc playable only on Blu-ray players as well as a standard CD.
Sono Luminus is proud to release this latest breathtaking project from Ars Lyrica, Domenico Scarlatti’s La Dirindina and Pur nel sonno.
The story of La Dirindina concerns a wily but gifted young singer, Dirindina (Jamie Barton), and her teacher Don Carissimo (Brian Shircliffe), whose interest in his pupil is more than a little untoward. Dirindina’s independent spirit and her ability to sing (when she wants to) annoy Don Carissimo, who is further vexed by the appearance of Liscione (Joseph Gaines), a famous castrato who brings some surprising news:
the Milan theater wants to engage Dirindina as its prima donna. Don Carissimo flies into a rage, stammering his way through a highly amusing and forward-looking aria, only to see that his pretty pupil is now flirting openly with the castrato. .
Part 2 opens with the unctuous Liscione plying Dirindina with a little minuet, which manages simultaneously to flatter the young singer’s ego while lampooning the fashionable but shamelessly sentimental manners of the aristocracy. Dirindina responds with perhaps the oddest aria in the work, full of syncopations and serpentine melodies that cheekily invoke various bodily fluids, with which she promises to seduce the Milanese public. The ensuing “play within a play,” a mock enactment of the tragic Dido’s rejection of the feckless Aeneas, is witnessed by Don Carissimo, who fails to get the joke and thinks that his ward is not only with child but ready to commit suicide. As with all good comedies, the joke’s on him: the finale is both outrageous and touching, as the capon and the hen are joined in hand by a thoroughly deceived old man.
The story of Pur nel sonno, showcasing soloist Céline Ricci, is delivered from the unlucky suitor’s point of view, and from the outset, the mood is dark: an Introduzione in two parts - something one might expect only at the head of a full-length opera or oratorio—is by turns aggressive and pensive. The sinewy first aria introduces a world-weary lover, one rejected by the unattainable Phyllis but unable to forget her, even in sleep; his passion remains sadly one-sided. A highly dramatic recitative follows, as the protagonist’s dream veers from lovely visions to fear and shame. His final realization - that he’ll never be free again - is given full vent in a tour-de-force concluding aria with abundant vocal fireworks.
D. SCARLATTI La Dirindina. Cantata Pur nel sonno. Sonatas: in d, K 90; in G, K 91 • Matthew Dirst, cond; Céline Ricci (sop); Jamie Barton (La Dirindina); Joseph Gaines (Liscione); Brian Shircliffe (Don Carissimo); Ars Lyrica Houston (period instruments) • SONO LUMINUS 92159 (66:24 Text and Translation)
This has got to be one of the neatest intermezzi of the early 18th century. It is precisely what one would need to send up a more serious opera, between whose acts it was originally placed as comic relief. The stereotyped music master, Don Carissimo (and I don’t need to translate this, do I?) is giving a less-than-functioning music lesson to his pretty pupil, La Dirindina, who has a terrible cold—“Ach sputo” (Ugh, phlegm) she hacks out in the first recitative. His real task, apart from being an incompetent teacher, is to get her to join his bevy of pretty pupils, each of whom supports their master in various ways. She, however, has fallen for Liscione, a castrato, who also happens to be her acting coach, even though “he can’t even sing a high G,” as Carissimo scoffs. Liscione enters with an offer for her to accompany him to Milan, where she is sure to make a success—one way or another (and yes, you can let your imagination run wild about the “possibilities” a clever, nubile girl can make for herself in a large city). In the second part, Carissimo spies on the two, not knowing that Dirindina’s suggestive lines are actually a rehearsal for an opera about Dido. He is thoroughly convinced that Liscione is less of a capon than he claims and that Dirindina is actually pregnant by him. Of course, at the end they have a good laugh at such foolishness. Here you have it; comedy, sex, coarse language, and some extremely sprightly tunes, not to mention a recitative that actually has some comedic plot to it (or at least a better one than the clever servant girl outwiting the dull old master in Pergolesi’s La serva padrona and others of that ilk). What’s not to like?
La Dirindina is, like all intermezzi, a bit too short for a complete disc, so Ars Lyrica Houston adds a couple of keyboard sonatas, here arranged for mandolin, and a rather straightforward cantata to a text by Pietro Metastasio, Pur nel sonno, none of which really complement the comic work. I’ve no objection to the rearrangements, though one should not expect these to be the work of Scarlatti himself, nor are they intended as some sort of “authentic” rendition, but rather as dividers to the vocal portions. The cantata, which has been recorded several times before, by countertenor Max Cencic with Ornamente 99 on Capriccio in 2003, and a few years earlier by Cyrille Gerstenhaber on Astree, is quite old-fashioned and freeflowing in the manner of Scarlatti’s father Alessandro. It is pleasant, but not entirely unusual, either in style or content. It really is all about the intermezzo, and from the opening sinfonia, an odd minuet over a drone bass that veers off-kilter harmonically, to the very Pergolesian arias, the musical-comic timing is impeccable. For instance, in the first aria, Dirindina has her line doubled by a lone violin, while the mocking final trio contains some rhythms that I find quite Spanish, the sort of accentuation that abounds in the works from his years in Madrid. Liscione’s smug aria about Dirindina’s “two little eyes” is a mincing minuet that weaves about. In case you don’t get the double entendre, the musical imagery of these “eyes” darting about while dancing has nothing to do with sight, as his lascivious mention of two “luminose clefs” (chiavi luminose) should indicate. In short, this is music that, barring censorship for indecent behavior, should bring a smile to any audience.
It is double surprise that this has not been recorded more frequently. There is an old opera video (which I have not seen, alas) and one of those early live recordings on Bongiovanni from 1994, the latter of which is hardly worth mentioning. I would hope this disc is the one to resurrect the work from undue oblivion. Matthew Dirst keeps his ensemble crisp and precise, and it remains the core of the production. Both mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton and bass Brian Shircliffe follow along nicely, but there are moments where they and the orchestra seem just a tad out of synch. This occurs often enough to be disconcerting, though of course it is not too disturbing in the long run. Céline Ricci’s soprano is much more refined and on pitch, and Joseph Gaines’s Liscione is played to fine comic effect. In short, this is not entirely perfection personified, but it is an important addition to the intermezzo repertory that has long been missing. No doubt other versions will appear in due course, and until such time, you could not go wrong, despite the brief warbles, in obtaining this one.
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Works on This Recording
Pur nel sonno almen tal'ora by Domenico Scarlatti
Celine Ricci (Soprano)
Ars Lyrica Houston
Written: 18th Century; Italy
La Dirindina by Domenico Scarlatti
Brian Shircliffe (Baritone),
Jamie Barton (Mezzo Soprano),
Joseph Gaines (Tenor)
Ars Lyrica Houston
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