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Christoph Willibald VON GLUCK (1714-1787)
L'innocenza giustificata, festa teatrale in 2 parts
María Bayo (Claudia), Verònica Cangemi (Flavio), soprano; Marina de Liso (Flaminia), mezzosoprano; Andreas Karasiak (Valerio), tenor
ChorWerk Ruhr; Cappella Coloniensis/Christopher Moulds
Recorded September 2003 at Studio Stolbergerstrasse, Cologne, Germany DDD
DEUTSCHE HARMONIA MUNDI 82876 58796 2 [46:29 + 40:59]


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Mention the name of Gluck, and almost every music lover thinks of 'Orfeo ed Euridice' and maybe some other operas from late in Gluck's career. Most of his earlier compositions are neglected. At the time Gluck composed 'Orfeo ed Euridice' (1762), he was already a very successful composer of operas. Most of them follow the then traditional patterns of 'opera seria' or 'serenata'. Like the 'opera seria' the 'serenata' was about a serious subject-matter, but was considerably shorter, and mostly in two acts. It met the need for entertainment and representation at court, and also gave singers an opportunity to show their skills.

Gluck composed three works of this kind, of which 'L'innocenza giustificata', called a 'festa teatrale', was the last, written in 1755. Although the style and form are traditional, in more than one way it points in the direction of what was going to come with Gluck's opera reform, as reflected in 'Orfeo ed Euridice'.

The subject of this serenata is from Roman antiquity. The cult of the goddess Vesta was one of the most important state cults in ancient Rome. According to legend the Trojans had brought the sacred fire to Rome on their flight from their city. The fire was safeguarded by a college of priestesses (the Vestal virgins) whose vows bound them to strict chastity and ascetic life. The libretto of 'L'innocenza giustificata' (The proven innocence) tells the story of the Vestal virgin Claudia, who is accused of being involved in a love affair with the young knight Flavio. The consul Valerius informs Claudia's sister, Maxima Flaminia, priestess of the goddess Vesta, that her sister is accused and must go before the Senate to defend her reputation. Although Claudia is confident that she has been able to convince the Senators that she is innocent, the Senate sentences her to death. When she is informed that the ship with the eagerly-awaited statue of the great Idaic Mother has run aground in the middle of the Tiber, she offers to pull the ship single-handedly into the harbour. When she succeeds in doing so, she is forgiven, and the people rejoice at the favour shown them by the gods.

Although the libretto is anonymous, it is likely that it was written by Giacomo Count Durazzo, who was the manager of the Vienna Court Theatre. He was a great admirer of Gluck and did everything possible to support him. The birthday celebrations of Emperor Franz I Stephan provided Durazzo with an opportunity to invite Gluck to compose a 'serenata'. But Durazzo will not have written the whole libretto, only the recitatives, the choral passages and the closing scene. The texts of the arias were all by the then famous librettist Metastasio. In his liner notes, Ingo Dorfmüller refers to the foreword which pays respect to Metastasio, but points out that the use of Metastasio's texts was in fact a way to criticise the products of his pen. The use of a random selection of his texts implied that these were exchangeable and not related to the story of the libretto for which they were originally conceived.

At several moments Gluck moves away from tradition. The 'cavata' of Claudia, 'Fiamma ignota', is cut short before it can take the form of a da capo aria, when Flavio bursts into the scene. Even more distance from tradition is taken in the closing scene with recitatives, an arietta and the closing chorus, which is composed attacca.

One can only agree with Ingo Dorfmüller, when he concludes: "Thus this apparently harmless 'festa teatrale' contains a clear aesthetic contrast of almost polemic intensity: it is this that makes 'L'innocenza giustificata' so special".

There are several moments of great intensity in this serenata. One of them is the last aria of the first act, where Flaminia - accompanied by two flutes - sings that if her sister has to die she wants to die with her. Another comes at the beginning of the second act when Flavio wants to stand by Claudia in her ordeal, but she insists that he leaves her alone. At the end of the first exchange the secco recitative turns into a recitativo accompagnato, which is then followed by a heart-breaking duet.

Another highlight is the aria of Valerio in the second act, 'Quercia annosa', where strings illustrate the blowing of the wind: "An ancient oak on a steep slope from the struggle of hostile winds emerges more robust, more healthy".

Some arias are also technically very demanding, like Claudia's first aria, 'Guarda pria', which contains a lot of vocal acrobatics and asks for quick shifts from one register to another.

One wonders why this 'festa teatrale' isn't more often performed as it contains some brilliant music and presents the singers with ample opportunities to show their skills. Reason enough to celebrate this recording, which is a fine achievement from singers, choir and orchestra alike.

Claudia is very well portrayed by María Bayo, who has no problems in meeting the demands of the above-mentioned aria, even though her intonation is a little suspect now and then. I would have liked a less wide vibrato on her part, but on the positive side I noticed the right amount of rhythmical freedom in the performance of the recitatives.

The contrast between her voice and that of Marina De Liso, who sings the part of her elder sister Flaminia, is just right. The same is true for Flavio: Verònica Cangemi gives a good interpretation of this role. The interaction between Bayo and Cangemi in the opening scene of the second act is very lively and dramatic. And in the duet their voices blend well, and the timbre of their voices is just different enough to tell them apart. Andreas Karasiak is satisfying in the part of Valerio, but his Italian pronunciation isn't very idiomatic, and sometimes he is a little stiff, in particular in the recitatives. But he sings the aria mentioned before, 'Quercia annosa', quite beautifully.

The part of the choir is very limited, just a couple of minutes in total, but ChorWerk Ruhr does sing it competently.

To sum up, this is a enjoyable and recommendable production. Hopefully we will hear more neglected compositions by Gluck.

Johan van Veen

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