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Early Music

Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger

Alessandro SCARLATTI (1660 - 1725)
Il Trionfo dell’Onore ovvero Il Dissoluto Penitito (1718) (82.17)
Libretto: Francisco Antoinio Tullio. Sung in Neapolitan dialect Italian
Amedeo Berdini, Riccardo; Amalia Pini, Leonora; Mario Borriello, Erminio;
Rossana Zerbini, Doralice; Sante Messina, Flamino; Ornella Rovero, Cornelia; Eugenia Zareska, Rosina; Afro Poli, Capitan Rodamarte Bombarda.
Orchestra Lirica di Milano della RAI/Carlo Maria Giulini
Recorded: Milan, Italy, 17 September 1950 [ADD monophonic]
Liner notes in Italian and English. Text in Italian; no translation.
WARNER FONIT CETRA 5046629062 [82.17]


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My acquaintance with Alessandro Scarlatti, the father of Domenico, has so far been with church music or spectacularly beautiful solo or duet secular cantatas. I had thought he was too dignified to get involved in this trashy form of the Italian intermezzo. But here he appears in company with the also very dignified Carlo Maria Giulini and the equally respectable Cetra record label, so it looks like we should pay attention.

The recording dates from 1950 and is well restored, obviously from disks. There is some shattering on just a few of the loud high notes, but most of the time the sound is clear, comfortable and relatively undistorted. The background is completely quiet which results in some deadening of the acoustic, but there is none of the catch-in-the-throat feeling of severe noise clamping. The voices are very close, yet the orchestra is easily heard.

You had better know Italian pretty well to appreciate this recording. Not only is there no English text (although with a story this silly who needs one?) but you will need an Italian dictionary and some familiarity with that language to repair the English ‘translation’ of the notes. But you don’t really need the printed Italian text as the voices are very close up and the diction is excellent.

A very brief summary of the plot: Leonora said that awful word ‘marriage’ so her boyfriend Riccardo has fled the city to his uncle’s country mansion. Eventually everybody in town shows up there and runs around frantically trying to get in each others pants. Leonora’s brother Erminio challenges Riccardo to a duel for dishonouring his sister. Riccardo is wounded, and swears he really will marry Leonora, whereupon everybody else on stage, chastened by his example, pairs off and swears they’ll all get married, too. ‘Il Trionfo dell’Onore.’ Sure they will. Curtain.

The overture has some of the greatness of Scarlatti in it. The first act is pretty buffo with the old man singing in falsetto while he chases after his chambermaid, and everybody else digging deep into silly lovers’ intrigues. The music rises dramatically in quality with the second act finale quartet, and Leonora’s aria opening act three. From here to the end Scarlatti’s genius for beautiful vocal lines is evident.

The performance includes a harpsichord you can barely hear, but is definitely politically incorrect, reflecting, to quote the notes, ‘ideas current in Italy in 1941 about 18th century opera.’ No original instruments or original performance practice here, instead we get throbbing violins and luscious phrasing. Everything is the better for it.

Paul Shoemaker

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