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Niccolò PICCINNI (1728-1800)
Le donne vendicate (The Revenge of the Women)
Musical intermezzi for four voices in two parts
Count Belleza, an eccentric knight … Vincenzo Di Donato (tenor)
Lindora, a simpering girl, niece of … Giuliana Castellani (soprano)
Ferramonte, the ladies’ champion … Mauro Buda
Aurelia, novel reading friend of Lindora’s … Sylva Pozzer
I Barocchisti/Diego Fasolis
CHANDOS CHACONNE CHAN 0705(2) [2CDs: 103:21]

 

Here is a charming light-hearted, early Italian comic opera – concerning a ferocious yet hilarious battle of the sexes. Its format is typical of its period, principally arias and recitatives. The ensemble, I Barocchisti (directed with much verve and spirit by Diego Fasolis) is small: seven violins, one each of viola, cello and double bass plus two oboes, one bassoon, two horns, a lute and a busy harpsichord continuo.

Niccolò Piccinni was born in Bari and studied at the Conservatory in Naples. His early successes swept him to prominence in Rome where he achieved great popularity – especially with La Cecchina o sia La buona figliuola - and received a multitude of commissions. Alas he could not sustain his early promise and he was forced to return to Naples to assume posts in the Cathedral and at the Bourbon Court. Later, his career took him, none too successfully, to Paris where he became embroiled in musical politics. He unintentionally became the representative of the anti-Gluckians. He returned to Naples when the French Revolution broke only to fall foul of politics again; this time of a revolutionary nature when his daughter married a French Jacobin. He was placed under house arrest but managed to escape and returned to Paris where, this time, he was fêted. He died in Passy on 7th May 1800.

Roman society gave Piccinni’s little farce, The Revenge of the Women an enthusiastic welcome. It was first performed in the Teatro alla Valle, Rome during the Roman Carnival in 1763. The action takes place in and around a pretty country villa near Bologna. Briefly the story concerns the love of two young girls: the simpering (yet ultimately more enterprising) Lindora and the bookish Aurelia for Count Belleza. To say that Belleza is vain would be an understatement; he would make Narcissus look modest. When the girls try to woo him with flowers and laurels, he scorns them swearing that all women are mendacious, untruthful, deceitful and insincere. Of course the girls are furious and swear vengeance. They enlist the cowardly Ferramonte, Lindora’s uncle, who adores Aurelia, to be their champion. The Count and Ferramonte try all sorts of excuses not to fight and at length the headstrong Aurelia seizes Ferramonte’s sword and attacks the hapless count who cringes under her ferocity. Of course love wins out in the end and the ladies get their men as they all finally chorus: "… three cheers for women, the bringers of joy."

The comic opera opens with a light, bright and breezy Sinfonia, quite Italianate in character and with a decorative elegance. The pace is brisk, the atmosphere sparkling and the arias amusing. The two soprano voices blend nicely but the lighter lyric voice of Sylva Pozzer might have lent itself better to the part of Lindora. That must not detract, however, from Castellani’s impressive coloratura singing in her arias notably her Part I ‘Le povera donne’ (Ladies poor souls are so loving) in which she angrily reproaches the Count for his discourtesy; and in her amusing Part II warning to the ladies that "we are like the nightingale believing what men say; men are toads who would bamboozle us!" Piccinni’s orchestral writing for this aria is brilliantly, wittily evocative of both bird and reptile. Pozzer as Aurelia is fiery enough and she shines in her defiant, triumphant aria ‘Infelici, pover’uomini’ (Wretched, foolish men mannerless boors the lot of you..) Vincenzo Di Donato as the hapless Count is excellent, pompously vain as he suggests that no woman can possibly resist him and foppishly disdainful of women’s (so he imagines) weaknesses. Baritone Mauro Buda is also good as the clownish champion Ferramonte, especially feigning valour (against a twittering ironic accompaniment) in his ‘Per esempio, se il nemico’ (If my opponent comes at me with his rapier look at me, my dearest and you shall see this sword flash like lightning descending upon the villain’s head!).

A delightful, fast-moving witty farce with a strong cast.

Ian Lace



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