Notes and Editorial Reviews
With a cast composed entirely of allegorical characters with names such as Faith, Faithlessness, Divine Love, Theology, and Time, one could be justified in assuming that Alessandro Scarlatti’s Oratorio per la Santissima Trinità is not exactly one of his more dramatic pieces. Like the Roman oratorio Colpa, Pentimento e Grazia (1708), a recording of which I reviewed in the last issue of Fanfare, it is rather a theological argument, in this instance one in which the mysterious concept of the Holy Trinity is denied by Faithlessness and upheld by the remaining characters. As the notes for this recording (the oratorio’s first) justly observe, it is hardly the stuff of strong emotion, but the work needs to be placed within context and
considered on its own merits. Although no details of the circumstances under which La Santissima Trinità was composed have survived, it was first performed in May 1715, almost certainly in Naples, making it one of the composer’s last oratorios. It was obviously intended to serve the didactic purpose common to all 17th- and 18th-century Italian oratorios, Olivier Rouvière’s notes plausibly suggesting that it might have received some kind of modest staging, a course not infrequently adopted to make such religious instruction more immediate for the faithful.
Despite what will undoubtedly be a distinctly unpromising scenario to the majority of 21st-century listeners, La Santissima Trinità is in fact an immensely rewarding work. Scarlatti, far from being inhibited by the subject matter, produced a score that extracts maximum effect from the conflict of views, articulating Faithlessness’s mockery and sturdy skepticisms with a strength that demands all the resources of his opponents, who reply through a variety of means often employing metaphor. It is some of these mimetic arias—the depiction of the turtledove’s freedom (enhanced by two solo violins) in Faith’s “Vedrai la tortorella,” or Theology’s evocation of the “hapless little boat” on a stormy sea (“Povera navicello”)—that provide just some of the highlights of a richly varied score that throughout shows Scarlatti at his most imaginative and inventive. Stylistically, numbers range from brief, old-fashioned continuo arias with a concluding instrumental postlude to more modern, fully accompanied arias that frequently include concertante solo-writing for the strings (there are no wind parts).
There is no question that the positive impression made by the oratorio can in no small measure be attributed to a performance that is vocally on the highest level and direction that, while incorporating some of Biondi’s familiar mannerisms, is distinguished by an obviously fervent belief in the work. Let’s get the annoyances out of the way first. Many of the quicker numbers (and some, such as the joyously affirmative duet for Faith and Divine Love that ends Part I, simply sound too fast) are characterized by a spikiness that inhibits Scarlatti’s innate lyricism. Exaggerated ritardandos are a constant aggravation, as is, more occasionally, Biondi’s penchant for percussive plucked continuo effects. His own solo contributions are by no means totally secure as to intonation, and his Europa Galante continues to lag behind the best period-instrument ensembles when it comes to string tone. Such caveats are to a large extent mitigated by the glorious singing of Biondi’s star-studded cast. Roberta Invernizzi’s Faith is a radiant performance, full-toned, splendidly assured in coloratura, and sung with a relish of the Italian language that speaks of a vivid identification with the part. She is finely balanced by the quieter, lyrical beauty of the Divine Love of Véronique Gens, whose exquisitely phrased “Quell’Amore” is one of the most memorable of many highlights. As the “bad guy” in this company, Paul Agnew brings a passionate conviction to Faithlessness, a performance that reaches a peak in the marvelous aria “L’eterno padre,” where Scarlatti both evokes the awe surrounding the Holy Trinity, and then, in the diametrically contrasted central section, has Faithlessness demolish belief in the conception. Time and Theology are less significant roles, but the former (sung with great authority by bass Roberto Abbondanza) has two splendid arias in Part I, and Theology is interestingly the one character that momentarily wobbles in the face of the arguments of Faithlessness. One wonders if the librettist was making a point.
Despite reservations about Biondi’s direction, this is unquestionably a major addition to the Alessandro Scarlatti discography, yet further vitally increasing our understanding of a prolific major composer who was until relatively recently largely restricted to the more shadowy realms of the Baroque.
Brian Robins, FANFARE [reviewing the original release] Read less
Works on This Recording
La Santissima Trinità by Alessandro Scarlatti
Roberto Abbondanza (Bass),
Paul Agnew (Tenor),
Vivica Genaux (Mezzo Soprano),
Roberta Invernizzi (Soprano),
Véronique Gens (Soprano)
Written: 1715; Naples, Italy
Length: 67 Minutes 0 Secs.
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