Notes and Editorial Reviews
A delightful blend of slapstick and highly allusive banter, Cesti’s comic moral opera mocks the pagan gods and the morally reprehensible excesses caused by amorous passion.
Pietro Antonio Cesti (born in Arezzo, 1623; died in Florence, 1669) was, along with Francesco Cavalli, the most illustrious representative of the seventeenth-century Venetian school of opera composers. Like many Seicento artists, he had an eventful life embracing multiple activities, as singer, actor, composer and maestro di cappella; like Vivaldi he took holy orders; and, like the murdered Stradella, he died in murky circumstances (probably by poisoning) after an outstanding musical career. He was an itinerant composer, dividing his activity between
Venice and the courts of Florence, Vienna and Innsbruck. The work recorded here dates from his period at the Viennese court, and the opera is characteristic of Viennese opera’s synthesis between the comical, parodic register typical of the Venetian aesthetic (of which Cavalli’s La Calisto is a remarkable example) and the moral, edifying dimension inherent to court opera.
A note about the dances by Carlo Ipata
In the score of Le disgrazie d’Amore, Cesti marks the Balletto dei Ciclopi and Ballo delle Scimmie at the end of Acts I and II respectively, without supplying the music for these instrumental dances. The usual practice was to utilize dance movements by other composers, as was done in February 1667 when the balletti by Johann Heinrich Schmelzer included on this recording were incorporated in a staged production. Schmelzer’s balletti survive in two parts, written for harpsichord only; we have realized these in five parts, to achieve a texture more consistent with the other orchestral music in the opera, and to enable the alternation of soli and tutti passages in the various repetitions.
"Male soprano Paolo Lopez is an alluring Cupid, but Gabriella Martellacci (Flattery) and Carlos Natale (Deceit) have the best music and give the finest performances."
The Guardian, February 2010
"Most of these singers are accomplished, but the male soprano Paolo Lopez as Cupid is truly exceptional. The sound is good and the music is well-crafted."
BBC Music Magazine, March 2010
" During his lifetime, no opera composer was more highly esteemed in court circles than Pietro Antonio Cesti (1623–1669). He seems to have moved from strength to strength, without a misstep: a favorite of the Medicis; a favorite once again at the Innsbruck court of Archduke Ferdinand Karl, who later granted him an abbotship; assistant Kapellmeister to the imperial court once it transferred to Vienna. He was by all accounts manipulative, charismatic, intelligent, and undeniably gifted; his sudden death, added to surviving correspondence about the hatred a few Venetian musicians felt for Cesti, inevitably led to claims of poisoning that were never confirmed. Le disgrazie d’Amore was one of his later works for private court consumption, and very well esteemed at the time. The plot is soon told. Venus and Vulcan squabble, and Cupid gets caught in the middle. He is whipped by his mother with his own bowstring, then leaves in anger. After several adventures, Cupid and Venus are reconciled—as it would appear Vulcan and Venus shall be, as well, but by Friendship (Amicizia), not Cupid. The mix of Roman gods and allegorical figures flows seamlessly together, not least because librettist Francesco Sbarra has chosen to show the former as nothing more than a pair of pagan Bickersons: Vulcan, a brutish bore who thinks of nothing but work, Venus, a vain creature whose treasure chest is filled with nothing but cosmetics. Le disgrazie is full of vivid characters, but remains thoroughly unconvincing both in its announced moral purpose of showing the superiority of celibate friendship to amorous passion, and in its careful avoidance of any suggestion the two could coexist. It is the result of an overheated mind and a cold heart, but wittily handled for all that. The score of the opera relies upon very expressive recitative, along with a mix of tuneful arias, duets, trios, and a pair of larger ensembles. Forms range from strophic to simple musical repeats, and to single statements of material. There is next to no repetition of the text. Instrumental pieces would appear to have been an expected part of the entertainment, but Cesti supplied little of it, beyond several sinfonias; indicated ballets for the conclusions of acts I and II were taken instead for this recording from the balletti of Johann Heinrich Schmelzer, just as they were for a production of Le disgrazie in 1667. (Carlo Ipata realized the surviving two part harpsichord-only textures of the balletti into five parts for instrumental ensemble.)
Cristiana Arcari’s lovely, focused tone and easy coloratura make her an excellent choice for the opera’s brief prologue. Maria Grazia Schiavo, whom I enjoyed so much in Porpora’s De Profundis (Carus 83.264), displays a bright, evenly produced voice, fine coloratura, and a sure way with shrewish characterization. Furio Zanasi is agile and dramatically adept, but his light bass seems oddly cast as the blacksmith of the gods; the far darker coloration of Antonio Abete’s tone would seem a better match in this respect. Contralto Gabriella Martellacci as Flattery is a bit heavy and unvarying in tone for the part, but manages some fearsomely lengthy figurations (“O voi, che in grandezza”) without a hitch, while Carlos Natale’s whitish tenor offers compensation in its quick, supple movement. Oro, a countertenor without parallel in shades of delicacy, is also curiously cast as Avarice. He doesn’t catch the sly humor in her aria “Io non mi lusingo” nor the viciousness of “O sciocchi,” and simply offers a generic old-woman caricature: wide vibrato, staccato phrasing, etc. Elena Cecci Fedi has few opportunities outside of recitative, but when she does get to sing out, as in “Che a farne beati,” she reveals a fine, dark soprano, aside from a few dry notes around the break.
Auser Musici is a small but varied ensemble of flexible size. On this recording, its ritornello section consists of six instrumentalists; its continuo, seven; and a viol da gamba consort provides four more (though it shares a single member with the continuo). The question of how large a performing group Cesti used will likely never be settled, although his late operas were definitely conceived for larger forces on all fronts (singing, orchestral, stage machinery) than he’d previously employed. I question the inclusion of an organ in the continuo—nobody has documented an original use of it as such in Baroque opera—but at least it is used discretely here, rather than as primary accompaniment. Similarly, the inclusion of two cellos in the continuo would not seem likely to occur in the same Baroque body that hired a couple of bass viol da gamba soloists. The ensemble’s founder and music director, Carlo Ipata, supplies varied and sensible tempos, with a firm rhythmic base, and an ear to color."
-- Barry Brenesal, Fanfare [5/2010]
Works on This Recording
Le disgrazie d'Amore by Pietro Antonio Cesti
Enea Sorini (Bass),
Antonio Abete (Bass),
Paolo Lopez (Countertenor),
Cristiana Arcari (Soprano),
Maria Grazia Schiavo (Soprano),
Furio Zanasi (Baritone),
Luigi de Donato (Bass)
Written: by 1667
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