Attilio Ariosti’s 1701 opera La fede ne’ tradimenti has lots of charming arias, even more pretty good recitative, and the plot’s bumbling Python-esque medieval antics seem to be a barrel of laughs. I say “seem” because despite excellent singing and playing Fabio Biondi and Europa Galante’s concert performance did not show this small-scale satire to its best advantage. It may have been an evening more for operatic Kenner than Liebhaber, but it was still a welcome and intriguing introduction to a forgotten work. Forgotten composer. Forgotten style, even.
Attilio Ariosti, La fede ne’ tradimenti. Wiener Konzerthaus, 1/23/2011. Fabio Biondi and Europa Galante with Ann Hallenberg (Fernando), Robert Ivernizzi (Anagilda), Lucia Cirillo (Elvira), Johannes Weisser (Garzia).
Over the last few years, the Baroque crowd has been proving that there’s far more to early Italian opera than Monteverdi and Handel. While Cavalli and Vivaldi make occasional inroads into opera houses, many of these efforts seem to be taking place more in concert and on CDs than in staged productions. This includes not only the ever-expanding Vivaldi edition but also recital CDs such as Philippe Jaroussky’s Caldara, Vivica Genaux’s Hasse, Karina Gauvin’s Porpora, and Simone Kermes’s anything. Works by earlier composers such as Cavalli don’t have much to offer for virtuosic soloists, but their smoother-flowing plots seem to find greater success in theaters. Ariosti is somewhere in between chronologically and musically, and his operas haven’t found much modern success onstage nor on CD… yet.
This opera is from 1701 and was written for court, not a public theater. There are arias, a lot of them, and some of them feature the kind of coloratura fireworks and cantilena you get from Handel. But many don’t, and nearly all are smaller in scale. Some are AA’ structures, some just As, some even ABA’ da-capo-types. There are some longer solo scenes, but they consist of multiple arias connected by bits of recitative. There are a few beautiful duets, but the only other ensemble is the short choral finale (chorus consisting of the soloists). There’s a lot of recitative relative to aria, and while it’s good recitative, its volume means you’re going to be spending a fair amount of the time thinking about the dramatic action. So while there’s some very rewarding music here, I’m not sure a concert (in which the audience is following a libretto in the program) shows it to its best advantage. Considering Ariosti’s low name recognition, though, it’s probably the only option.
The venue wasn’t ideal either; the Großer Saal of the Konzerthaus is simply far too big for this work. The Theater an der Wien or even the Mozart-Saal would have been far preferable. The singers were appropriately cast for this style, the orchestra was the right size, but I’m really glad I was sitting in the third row, because I’m not sure how it would have registered much further back. (Acoustics can be funny, though.)
La fede ne’ tradimenti’s 1689 libretto, by Girolamo Gigli, is a gleeful affair that was set by a number of other composers before Ariosti. It can’t be taken seriously, nor is it meant to be. Expanding fantastically on a minor subplot in the fight between King Fernando of Castille and King Sancio of Navarre, it, in the words of Sabine Rademacher’s ace program notes, “trivializes the medieval figures and events, as well as their heroic ideals.” Briefly, the plot involves Fernando, engaged to Anagilda, though he killed her father. Anagilda’s brother is not happy about this and interferes. Anagilda, proving that ladies of Spain are just made for liberating their wrongfully imprisoned husbands, rescues Fernando. Elvira, Fernando’s sister, is also involved, and improbably ends up falling for Garzia. Of course, improbability is the point. My favorite twist is when Elvira gets into Fernando’s palace by dressing up as the servant of an African magician and telling him there’s a treasure buried in his backyard and she has to come in and wait for a particular time for the sun to make a tree cast a shadow, which will show her where to dig for it.
There is satire here! The music is heartfelt, but a violent aria from Garcia about not trusting women’s tears (“Di femmina al pianto, mai più crederò”) is immediately followed by an apparently sincere one from Elvira entitled “Pianto mio, che sangue sei.” This tone is another big thing that makes this opera tricky to appreciate in concert. Send this score to David Alden pronto and see what he can do with it! With staging, I have no doubt it would be suited for a wide audience.
Fabio Biondi’s Europa Galante, 16 members strong, plays with a silkier tone and slightly gentler attack than some of the more rattly HIP outfits, or maybe that was just the space. Ensemble and phrasing were excellent, and the continuo section was super, with great creativity in the art of bass line deployment. Solos, particularly Biondi’s own on the violin, were outstanding. Biondi, however, is one of those early music conductors whose vague gestures (with his bow) make absolutely no sense to non-HIP musician me. Looks like the ensemble gets it, though.
Mezzo Ann Hallenberg as Fernando (castrato role? I think? possibly just pants) was the star of the singers, with a large, vibrant voice, spotless coloratura and phrasing, and lively stage presence. She got most of the best arias, and her “Queste ceppi” was the highlight of the show. Fellow mezzo Lucia Cirilla’s slimmer, darker voice also excelled as Elvira. Roberta Invernizzi showed charm and agility as Anagilda, and her almost vibrato-free tone is attractive, but her sound did not project well. Johannes Weisser sounded unfocussed as Garzia.
This long evening bled some audience members during the intermissions (BTW, performers, I was the awake girl sitting next to the sleeping lady in the third row), but I’m glad I got to experience this piece, even in less than ideal conditions. It was broadcast live on the radio, and I hope will eventually be released as a CD. Maybe next time I’ll see it with staging.
Speaking of eighteenth-century obscurities, I’m off to the Universität für Musik und darstellende Kunst’s production of Gluck’s Il parnaso confuso on Wednesday night, in the distinguished and appropriate location of the Schloss Schönbrunn’s 18th-century theater. Opera titles with words like confuso, pazza, and finta are guarantees to get me into an audience in any case.