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Notes and Editorial Reviews
A stunning rediscovery. Alessandro di Marchi, one of the leading specialists in historical performance practice, unearths a milestone in German music history.
This live recording of Georg Philipp Telemann's "Flavius ??Bertaridus" at the Innsbruck Festival of Early Music has been hailed by critics. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung described this world premiere recording under the direction of Alessandro di Marchi - one of the leading specialists in historical performance practice - as "a milestone in German music history."
"Not a single scene or aria would you want to miss," the Neue Zürcher Zeitung wrote of di Marchi's spectacular interpretation with the orchestra and
chorus of the Academia Montis Regalis. The opera tells a story of great relevance: the downfall of a tyrant, not unlike those of modern dictators such as Gaddafi. Full of love, lust and intrigue, this 1729 opera seria can safely be described as baroque soap opera.
"A stunning re-discovery." -- Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
One of the main works performed at Hamburg's Gänsemarkt Opera
Telemann's Flavius Bertaridus, King of the Lombards
Georg Philipp Telemann spent 46 years in Hamburg, and the list of positions he held there makes for impressive reading: he was cantor and director of music at the city's five principal churches, he taught at the Johanneum grammar school, and he was musical director of the Gänsemarkt Opera. "On the side" he found time to compose countless cantatas, pieces for the Admiralty, operas and oratorios. Telemann wrote some 40 stage works for Germany's first public opera house, but not all the scores have survived. Thus Flavius Bertaridus, King of the Lombards is a special document. Announced ahead of time as "a very fine and carefully elaborated opera", it was one of the last attempts to mend the ways of increasingly trivially-minded audiences with a serious libretto and a lavish score. However, the première on 23. November 1729 was apparently no great success. A few weeks earlier, the allegorical figure "the Hamburg opera" sang the following lament in a prologue from Telemann's pen: "For only the applause of clever connoisseurs / And the support of high-ranking patrons / In this world-famous city / That has been my home / For over fifty years / – This alone can / Liberate me / From the deathbed I already lie on!". But even this musical appeal failed to gain a lasting hearing: in 1738 the Gänsemarkt opera house had to close down.
In Flavius Bertaridus Telemann complied with Johann Mattheson's demand that the popular comic characters should be eliminated from operas in the interests of the audience's moral edification. Thus the work has been described as the composer's only surviving opera seria. It was unusual for the citizens' opera house in Hamburg to play a work without popular roles – the theatre was otherwise perfectly happy to put on farces in Low German dialect. But Flavius Bertaridus did nonetheless fulfil typical criteria of the 'Gänsemarkt genre'. An Italian opera of the same name, Flavio Bertarido, had been put on at the bourgeois opera in Venice in 1706, and the libretto by Stefano Ghisi and Carlo Francesco Pollarolo was taken as the basis for the Telemann piece. To ensure that all the different social classes represented in the audience were able to follow the complicated historic plot, Telemann set the recitatives and many of the arias in German, but left arias that had a strong emotional bias in Italian. Cosmopolitan diversity also prevailed in the "mixed taste" of national styles from which Hamburg's composers, and here first and foremost the sophisticated Telemann, adapted the most appealing elements to suit their own purpose: seria coloratura from Italy, cantata German rich in imagery for shorter arias, and blithe dances from French opera. What the composer and scholar Mattheson, himself a native of Hamburg, criticised as "a wretched hotchpotch", was actually an expression of Hanseatic internationalism: with its 70,000 plus inhabitants the second biggest city in the Empire after Vienna, the commercial metropolis on the Elbe was home to merchants from Holland, England and Portugal, and to culture from Venice and Paris.
The self-confidence of the proud north German republic also found expression in the libretti. Flavius Bertaridus, the text of which Telemann wrote himself together with local author Christoph Gottlieb Wend, offers a classic example of the rational (Protestant) regent, a man who believes in communicating with his subjects, emerging victorious over the selfish (Catholic) despot with his love of splendour. At the end, the regent, who has his own emotions under control, triumphs over the dissipation of the despot – a phenomenon as applicable in 7th century Lombardy as it was in Baroque cities. Each type of ruler has a family at his side: Flavius Bertaridus is united with Rodelinda and his son Cunibert, while Grimoaldus tyrannises his wife Flavia and their son Regimbert. With the emphasis on the new topic of the family and the children's roles – most unusual in Italian Baroque opera – Telemann was already adapting to the new age of sentimentalism, which began after the death of Louis XIV in 1715. In contrast to the rational thinking propagated during the era of absolute monarchy, sentimentalism sought for private happiness based on feelings rather than reason. In contrast to his immediate Italian models, Telemann makes unusually frequent use of the chorus – perhaps a gesture of respect towards the democratic-minded Hamburg audience, who were keen to hear the vox populi as well when a monarch was singing.
For the revival of Flavius Bertaridus in Innsbruck and Hamburg, Alessandro De Marchi took a closer look at the elegant variety of Telemann's goûts réunis. The conductor writes: "The Italian arias in Flavius Bertaridus are full of virtuoso coloratura. But Telemann was also fond of French music, and dances like the minuet or the gavotte are found concealed in many of the arias. One special feature is the use of contrapuntal elements throughout. Telemann also enriches the Italian and German references with 'German' counterpoint, but never heavy-handedly. The counterpoint is most evident in the orchestral accompaniment, which is interspersed with genuine motif-work. And for the character of Cunibert, Telemann again has recourse to a specifically German form: to express the boy's sensitive naivety and innocence, he writes short arias for Cunibert in the tradition of a German Baroque song."
A large part of today's practical work on the score consists of understanding the style of the ornamentation. To this end, Alessandro De Marchi enlisted the help of Telemann's own Sonate metodiche, which exist for teaching purposes in two versions: with ornamentation and without. This enabled De Marchi to adopt some models for ornamenting the melodic line directly from the composer himself. The conductor also filled in the notated instrumentation, referring here to the very substantial orchestra at the Gänsemarkt Opera, which featured up to 60 musicians, numerous woodwind and brass players among them. The result is wealth of instrumental colour with recorders and flutes, oboe d’amore and oboe da caccia, bassoons and viols and theorbos, a Baroque harp, trumpets, timpani and not one but two harpsichords! Alessandro De Marchi keeps back one instrumental effect for the scene with the Lombards' guardian spirit, which the producer, Jens-Daniel Herzog, combines with the formerly silent role of the child Regimbert: when this character announces peace, the other-worldly event is symbolised by the magical sound of the chalumeau, the predecessor of the clarinet, which was already known to the Gänsemarkt orchestra.
The performance of Flavius Bertaridus at the Innsbruck Festival, a co-production with the Hamburg State Opera, presented Telemann's score in a slightly shortened form. One of Flavius's arias was allotted to Onulfus ("Quando mai, spietata sorte") to give his small part more weight. As the overture to Flavius Bertaridus has been lost, another overture from Telemann's pen was substituted for the missing piece: the festive, French-style overture TWV 55 : D 18 has come down to us from the Darmstadt court, but apparently dates from the composer's time in Frankfurt, and was probably used in Hamburg too – precisely this suite is found in a continuo part of an opera performance given at Gänsemarkt in 1719.
The singers in this production were cast in accordance with the allocation of roles in the first performance. The central part of Flavia was tailored to suit the Hamburg primadonna Susanna Kayser, who was also the theatre manager, while Rodelinda was played by another first-class singer, Christina Maria Avoglio, who later went on to sing Handel. In the 1729 production the part of Cunibert was sung not by a child, but by Reinhard Keiser's 17-year-old daughter, while Onulfus was written for a falsetto. As in this new production, the title role was taken at the first performance by a mezzosoprano, the Italian singer Maria Domenica Pollone: the ambivalent vocal sound and spectacular virtuosity of the castrati didn't find favour with opera-goers in the down-to-earth mercantile city of Hamburg.
Clive Williams, Hamburg
Works on This Recording
Flavius Bertaridus, TV 21 no 27 by Georg Philipp Telemann
Jürgen Sacher (Tenor),
Maité Beaumont (Mezzo Soprano),
Ann-Beth Solvang (Mezzo Soprano),
Katerina Tretyakova (Soprano),
David D. Q. Lee (Countertenor),
Mélissa Petit (Soprano),
Nina Bernsteiner (Soprano)
Alessandro de Marchi
Academia Montis Regalis
Written: by 1729; Germany
Date of Recording: 08/2011
Venue: Live, Innsbruck, Austria
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
Music's Loss July 21, 2012
By Anthony G. (SANTA FE, NM) See All My Reviews
"Music's loss that Telemann did not write more operas or that more had not survived. This ethereal music is also packed with power and passion.Opera for people who don't like opera."