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V. Martín i Soler,  Philistaei a Jonatha dispersi : Academia Bizantina, Coro de Cámara Amaltea. Conductor: Ottavio Dantone. Teatro Martín i  Soler de Valencia. 4. 6.2008 (JMI)

Concert Version


Jonatha: Olga Peretyatko, soprano
Saúi: Maria Radner, contralto
Achinoam: Ruth Rosique, soprano
Abner: Marina De Liso, mezzosoprano
Eber: María Grazia Schiavo, soprano
Phanes: Marina Rodríguez-Cusí, mezzosoprano

Valencia’s Palau de les Arts houses different halls, aside from the main one where opera performances take place. For  the First Mediterranean Festival a small theatre of 400 seats has  opened and given the name of the most famous of Valencian composers, although even to many of his fellow citizens he remains a complete stranger.

I am referring to Vicente Martin i Soler, more of whose works are to be given by the Palau during forthcomin opera seasons. Nothing could be more opportune for the inauguration of the theatre than to open it with one of his works, an oratorio is receiving its premiere not only in the composer’s home town, but also in Spain.

Martin i Soler was a very important composer during the second half of the eighteenth century, although today he is  almost forgotten, like so many of Mozart’s contemporaries. The Oratorio Philistaei a Jonatha Dispersi was composed for one of four orphanages then existing in Venice, where music training was provided for the female inmates and  where concerts were given by the most promising among them. Vivaldi, Hasse and Galuppi, among others, wrote works for these orphanages and their works gained a large public following s.

This particular   oratorio was premiered in 1774 and is based on the Biblical story of King Saul. It is, of course, scored only for female voices both as soloists and as chorus.  The work deals with the conflict of King Saul, who has sworn to God that his soldiers will not eat anything after a battle with the Philistines, any transgression being punished with death. His son Jonatha, after defeating single-handedly a full detachment of Philistines and unaware of his father’s oath, takes the honey from a beehive ( too many sweets have been always  dangerous!)  and is only pardoned after the intervention of Elias.

This work cannot be considered as a true masterpiece, but it contains pages of great beauty, particularly the aria for Eber, very demanding in its coloratura, for  of Jonatha and Achinoam.  It is in fact, a very interesting piece, whose restoration seems to me to have been successful: it could work very well in a staged performance, since there is both a good plot and dramatic action.

The performance of the music was the responsibility of Ottavio Dantone and the Accademia Bizantina, a small baroque orchestra of 20 musicians. Dantone’s reading of Martin i Soler’s work was the most convincing that I have ever heard, even bettering Christophe Rousset and his Talens Lyriques in works such as Il Tutore Burlato or La Capricciosa Corretta. The energy coming from Dantone was an example of how to conduct this music, which is more closely related to classicism than to the baroque. I do not know what would have happened in other hands, but this is a he work that could fall apart very easily. The Orchestra gave a wonderful performance and the 23 strong girls’ choir, made a very positive impression.

It cannot be  easy to assemble 6 women to sing this oratorio which is, as I said above, quite demanding in purely vocal terms. The cast offered by the Palau was very well balanced indeed and showed remarkable quality from four  of the six soloists, which is no mean achievement.

The young Russian soprano Olga Peretyatko was an outstanding interpreter of Jonatha, King Saul’s son . She has a beautiful light lyric soprano voice and sings very well, being particularly briliiant in her second- half aria which demands an ample tessitura. The tormented King Saul was sung by German contralto Maria Radner. Her voice is not particularly rich, although she is very musical, and her presently dubious diction should improve with time.

Andalusian Ruth Rosique gave a great deal of life to Achinoam, Jonatha's mother and Saul's wife, a role quite different from those that she usually sings on stage. Achinoam is a mother who suffers and the role  has an ample tessitura, and is very demanding in the mid-range. Her aria at the end of the opera, full of genuine emotion, was sung wonderfully. When not needing  to rise to the higher notes, Ms  Rosique proved that she is a most  interesting singer, who found herself  perfectly cast in this case.

The Italian soprano Maria Grazia Schiavo  was also a lively Eber, Jonatha’s friend, and confirmed the very good impression she left in Vivaldi’s Bajazet and lately as La Musica  in Monteverdi’s Orfeo. She has a  very bright coloratura and sings with exquisite taste. This  is a light soprano to follow up, provided she is not always cast to sing in the stratosphere.

Another Italian, the  mezzosoprano Marina De Liso replaced Silvia Tro Santafé as Abner, general of the Israel army : her performance was fully convincing and she wa s an excellent substitution.  It remains only to mention the other mezzo, Marina Rodriguez-Cusí, who was reliable interpreter as  Phanes. This  is the smallest role in the work, although she has an aria in the first part is taken from Martin i Soler’s Ifigenia in Aulide.

The small theatre had a  nearly to full house and the audience received all the artists warmly although there were no individual bows. Altogether, this work was an interesting rediscovery, eminently  suitable for the inauguration of the new hall.

Jose M. Irurzun

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