A. SCARLATTI La Giuditta (1697) • Gilbert Bezzina, cond; Sophie Landy (Giudita); Raphaël Pichon (Nutrice); Carl Ghazarossian (Oloferne); Nice Baroque Ens (period instruments) • DYNAMIC 596 (74:20 Text and Translation) Live: Nice 3/6,7,9/2008
Alessandro ScarlattiRead more composed two oratorios on the Biblical subject of Judith and Holofernes. The first was written in 1693 to a libretto by Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni, the well-known Roman music patron who also played a significant role in Handel’s life during the Italian portion of his career. The first La Giuditta was written for five voices and instruments. In 1697, Scarlatti set a second libretto, this time written by Cardinal Ottoboni’s father, Antonio, in which the number of characters was reduced to three. We do not know the occasion for which this second setting was created and lack information on its first performance. The differences between the two versions are discussed in Brian Robins’ review of a previous recording, which interested readers will find in the Archive. (Robins states that the second version was written for Rome in 1700. The notes to Dynamic’s recording state that the first version was the one performed in 1700.)
The live performance recorded by Dynamic is a very good one, especially in the two lower voices. Raphaël Pichon as the Nurse has a natural-sounding countertenor voice well produced throughout its range, without the hollowness or hootiness that sometimes mars this voice type. Carl Ghazarossian has a voice supple enough to handle the florid music. His top notes can sound a little thin, but his role mostly lies in his middle and lower registers, where his voice is strong. I am less enamored of Sophie Landy’s Judith. Technically, she is able to sing the notes. But she sings with no hint of vibrato, a severe white tone that many early-music practitioners think historically accurate but which, to these ears, seems unnatural and inhuman. Her voice thus sounds rather thin and lacks any kind of allure. Very occasionally, she can sound ugly, for example in her aria at track 35. I don’t want to overemphasize this, however. Her performance is not bad, and will undoubtedly be pleasing to many, as it was at times to me. Gilbert Bezzina leads a well-paced performance. The Ensemble Baroque de Nice provides expert accompaniment.
This is the third recording of the second La Giuditta. Brian Robins reviewed an Albany recording conducted by Elaine Comparone in the review cited above; he found it “serviceable to near unacceptable.” A recording on Bongiovanni conducted by Estevan Velardi, on the other hand, provides serious competition. Its Judith, Rosita Frisani, allows a small amount of vibrato in her singing, making her voice more pleasant to hear. She nowhere sounds thin, and it is much easier to believe she could seduce Holofernes. The Nurse and Holofernes display similar qualities to their rivals on Dynamic. Velardi’s orchestra, which is approximately the same size as Bezzina’s, sounds a little more full, though this could be because of recording differences between Dynamic’s live performance and Velardi’s studio one. The audience on Dynamic is extremely quiet, only betraying its presence by its applause at the end. The only other hint that this is a live recording is the sound of page turning at times.
Bongiovanni’s recording is available as an import and is more expensive than Dynamic’s. Despite my criticisms of the soprano, Dynamic’s recording is a worthwhile alternative.