Notes and Editorial Reviews
Carlo Re d’Alemagna
Fabio Biondi, cond; Romina Basso (
); Roberta Invernizzi (
); Marina de Liso (
); Marianne Beate Kielland (
); Carlo Allemano (
); Josè Maria Lo Monaco (
); Roberto Abbondanza (
); Stavanger SO
AGOGIQUE 0015 (3 CDs: 169:20
Text and Translation)
Between Fabio Biondi and Alan Curtis, we have been blessed in recent years with several fine recordings of neglected Italian Baroque operas. The liner notes to this one,
Carlo Re d’Alemanga
, are surprisingly brief, but then, little is known of the work’s details and reception. Suffice to say that it was premiered in Naples at the Teatro S. Bartolomeo on January 30th, 1716. It was one of over 100 such operas that made Scarlatti the most highly regarded Italian composer of his day.
Despite plot simplifications that occurred from the 1600s through the 1800s, the subject matter of so many Italian operas stayed essentially the same: the fictionalized conflicts of honor and love foisted off on nobility in all times and places. In
, the time is the 9th century, and the place is the Holy Roman Empire. Charles would subsequently be known as Charles the Bald, but during the period in question he had a full head of hair, since he was only a child—and only takes a silent role in the proceedings. Nearly everything else is made up. The mother of Charles and the widow of Louis the Pious, Judith, contends with rumors that her son is illegitimate. Lothair, one of two older sons of Louis, wants to kill the child because of this. Judith’s daughter, Princess Gisela (who in real life married Eberhard of Friuli, a prominent supporter of Lothair’s, to bring him over into Judith’s camp), is in love with Lothair’s son, Prince Adalgiso, a made-up part. Throw in an ambitious, scheming villain, Lothair’s counselor, Asprando; a convenient voice of conscience, the knight Berando; and a pair of lower-class lovers meant to provide humor, Bleso, Lothair’s master-at-arms, and Armilla, Judith’s maid. As you might guess, the rumors are destroyed at the work’s conclusion, with Gisela and Adalgiso promised to one another in marriage.
Comparisons with Handel are difficult to resist. First, because this is just the kind of libretto he frequently liked to dust off and renovate, drastically cutting its length, jettisoning secondary roles and a considerable amount of recitative. Second, because musically, Scarlatti (and his Neapolitan contemporaries) were among the major influences on Handel’s operas. In lieu of musical analysis, I can only recommend that anybody sample a selection of the arias and duets from
online, and compare them to similar arias they know and love by Handel, according to expressive type: military, furious, vengeance-seeking, loving, serene, nature analogies, etc. What’s striking is how distinct these arias are, within each type—no two very similar ones within a given opera of either composer—how intensely theatrical both Scarlatti and Handel are, and how shrewdly they use solo instruments or instrumental groups to score individual points. In the best operas of each, the characters live, breathe, and feel.
True, there’s nothing here to approach the expressive poetry of Cleopatra’s prison scene in
’s act III trio, “O Numi pietà,” is a fine piece of dramatic writing that would have been more impressive if taken at a slower basic pace. It is a rare criticism I have of Biondi. Mind, he’s still far from the nervy group of Italian Baroque conductors—Jean-Christophe Spinosi, Rinaldo Alessandrini, Federico Maria Sardelli—whose recordings I’ve repeatedly reviewed in these pages, and who push their singers mercilessly in arias meant to be sung at a much greater range of tempos. Perhaps Biondi’s tendency to press a bit in
is a result of the lack of actual staging. It’s thanks to him that
was presented in a concert venue at the Festival Scarlatti at Palermo back in 2003, and several of the same singers were involved in this studio recording six years later. Had the opera been performed in a theater, that trio, and a few other lamenting or calming numbers, might well have proceeded more slowly to focus the audience’s attention on their thematic beauty and emotive charge. As it is, there’s still plenty to enjoy, even if some of those pieces, such as Judith’s “L’innocenza in te vegg’io che del fato” and Lothair’s “Riede quest’alma in calma,” are also a shade too fast to make their full impact. Biondi does ornament his
arias with feeling for character and mood, and the Stavanger SO proves itself a fine ensemble.
The singing from several of the principals is as good as their reputations suggest. Roberta Invernizzi is bright, varied, and characterful; rich-voiced Marina de Liso, as varied in color and adept at coloratura as ever, if still inclined to turn final “o”s into “ah”s. Romina Basso continues to impress me as a one of the finest of all recorded contraltos, though a bit more theatrically positive when caught live on stage. But check out “Aure voi che” online (at youtube.com/watch?v=AEQzpyeFvUQ). It’s not the best of transfers, but ask yourself upon listening to it if you have ever heard anything more sumptuously, beautifully sung, the dynamics so subtly applied, the breath seemingly endless. (It is also an example of what to expect musically from this opera.)
Marianne Beate Kielland does a fine job coloring her tone to suit the expressivity of the text, and isn’t quite as bad at swallowing consonants as she was in Caldara’s
Il più bel nome
(Glossa 920310). Her place in that respect is taken here by Josè Maria Lo Monaco, whose voice switches to vocalise once out of the chest. (It’s poorly equalized, with problems that may have presaged her quivering, off-pitch Ottone in Cavina’s
L’incoronazione di Poppea
, recorded the following year.) Damiana Pinti’s alto is too rounded to do justice to the pert maid, Armilla, but she sings her part with distinction; while Roberto Abbondanza is her responsive, bright-toned partner, when he doesn’t occasionally speak his singing line for anachronistic comic emphasis. Carlo Allemano’s slightly dry-toned tenor is used with typical intelligence and sensitivity. His “Par che goda” is an excellent instance of this artist’s skill.
The sheer quality of the music and much of the singing makes this mandatory for fanciers of Italian Baroque opera. And if you haven’t sampled anything by Scarlatti before, this is an excellent place to start. Strongly recommended.
FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
Works on This Recording
Carlo re d'Allemagna by Alessandro Scarlatti
Damiana Pinti (Mezzo Soprano),
Marianne Beate Kielland (Mezzo Soprano),
Roberta Invernizzi (Soprano),
Marina De Liso (Mezzo Soprano),
Romina Basso (Mezzo Soprano),
Carlo Allemano (Tenor),
José Maria Lo Monaco (Countertenor),
Roberto Abbondanza (Baritone)
Stavanger Symphony Orchestra
Written: by 1716; Italy
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