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Pietro CHIARINI (c1717-after 1765)
Il Geloso Schernito (attrib. Pergolesi) (1746)
Elda Ribetti (soprano) Dorina; Dino Mantovani (baritone) Masacco; I Comedianti in Musica della Cetra; Complesso Strumentale del Teatrino di Villa Olo/Ennio Gerelli.
Rec. Como, Italy, in 1956. MONO ADD
WARNER FONIT MONO 5050466-3243-2-0 [55’17]

This was the world premiere recording of an opera previously attributed to Pergolesi, Il Geloso Schernito. This comedy for two protagonists is actually the fruit of Pietro Chiarini, a Northern Italian opera composer. Listening to this mono recording brings a distinct sense of nostalgia. It is all too easy to imagine what a latter-day period group would make of it in terms of phrasing and textural clarity, but that is to miss the point. This is a valuable document of a period of rediscovery of lesser-known Italian opera (as the excellent booklet notes point out). The recording quality itself is in general perfectly adequate, although a rather distanced harpsichord sounds rather curious.

The two singers in this recording (identified by period-feel black-and-white photos) both appear elsewhere in the catalogues: Ribetti most famously in the Serafin Rome Opera Un ballo in maschera (1949); Mantovani as Sciarrone in Maazel’s late 1960s Tosca. So at the very least this disc helps to fill in a couple of gaps. But both singers are in general in fine fettle and do all in their power to bring the present comedy to life.

It is easy to believe that Ribetti is also available in the role of Zerlina on Warner Fonit’s Don Giovanni of 1953 (0927-43561-2). Her voice has all of the lightness and freshness this role demands.

For sense of timing and pure comedic delight, this opera put me in mind of the (very much later, compositionally) I quattro rusteghi by Wolf-Ferrari also available on this label (see my MusicWeb review: 8573-87481-2). The orchestra, whilst not world-class, clearly enters into the spirit of things. The Overture is characterised by sprung rhythms that, admittedly, are not what we would refer to as ‘authentic’ today. But the point is that the speed is convincing, something that also can be said about the recitatives (of which there are many), which are naturally paced so that interchanges flow along naturally.

The plot is rather like having half of Così fan tutte, with disguises between lovers, farcical chaos and a final resolution. Lasting less than an hour in toto, though, there is not much time to dwell on things – only three tracks rise above the four-minute mark, and one of them is the Overture!

As with Così, there is the test of fidelity by the removal of the beloved and the use of disguise. The various machinations of Part Two, where Masacco returns in disguise to tempt Dorina with a precious jewel, are delightful. Again, Dorina is marvellously coquettish in Part Three, but the orchestra’s tendency to drag it’s feet can detract from one’s enjoyment. A similar fault blights the Duet that precedes the final, jaunty chorus – the effect of the tender vocal interchanges is obliterated by a turgid orchestral coda.

Whatever drawbacks there may be, this is certainly worth a spin. There is an infectious feel to much of the piece that cannot but fail to brighten one’s day.

Colin Clarke

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