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Giovanni Battista PERGOLESI (1710-1736)
Lo frate 'nnamorata (1732)

Musical comedy in Three Acts.
Libretto Gennarantonio Federico
Marcaniello (Baritone) Alessandro Corbelli
Ascanio ( Soprano) Nuccia Focile
Nena (Soprano) Amelia Felle
Nina (Contralto) Bernadette Manca di Nissa
Luggrezia (Mezzo-Soprano) Luciana D'Intino
Carlo (Tenor) Ezio di Cesare
Vanella (Soprano) Elizabeth Norberg-Schulz
Cardella (Mezzo-Soprano) Nicoletta Curiel
Don Pietro (Baritone) Bruno de Simone
Orchestra of Teatro alla Scala, Milan
Conductor: Riccardo Muti
Filmed at a live performance on 28 December 1989
Sung in Italian with English subtitles
DVD Opus Arte OA LS3005D (La Scala Collection).Total length 2hr.50 min.19secs

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Giovanni Battista Pergolesi has been credited with the origination of the Opera buffa or comic opera, of which "Lo frate 'nnamorata" is an example. Written in 1732 at the age of 22 in his short life, this shows all the characteristics of the late baroque in a style which was to become very popular, particularly with Rossini and Mozart. Pergolesi was a contemporary of Vivaldi, and the composition of the arias and recitatives obviously owes a great deal to his influence. This was the second of Pergolesi's operas, and in fact lay forgotten until rediscovered and produced by Riccardo Muti himself. This production is in its second incarnation, having been produced by RAI television and previously issued on DVD by a company whose abbreviation in the RED catalogue is not listed, but in exactly the same performance.

The plot is a typically implausible and tangled tale of three girls (Nena, Nina and Luggrezia) resisiting their arranged marriages whilst all in pursuit of the same young man, Ascanio. The scheming men in the marriages are Marcaniello, Carlo and a foppish Don Pietro. Needless to say, their plans come to nought by a contrived stratagem, which at the end of the opera leaves them still in their single state.

The singers are all of high quality, with possibly Nuccia Focile outstanding as Ascanio, the adopted heir of Marcaniello; the casting of a female in this part possibly reflects the common practice of the use of a castrati for these parts in the eighteenth century. The three ladies are well suited to their parts, the dresses are rich and extravagant, and each one conveys a sense of somewhat haughty condescension to their situation. The male parts are well differentiated, with Marcianello as an old roué who suffers the pangs of old age and the gout, Carlo as a Roman bourgeois who fancies himself as a swordsman, and the extraordinary Don Pietro as the one who is made the figure of ridicule. The other two female parts are of Vanella and Cardella, maids to Carlo and Marccaniello repectively, who give witty, bright and coquettish performances.

The sets, as is usual nowadays, are minimalistic, and suffice to change by the simple expedient of a revolving stage. One drawback of a live performance however is the stage lighting, and the whole opera is set at a low, even dim level of illumination. Another recurring problem which I should have thought more easily surmountable, is the correlation between the sound and lip movements; this is not as marked in this production as some I have seen, but is nevertheless still noticeable. The music is of course repetitive and after a time becomes almost banal in its similar style. There is no chorus, the opera is divided into arias and recitatives, with the obligatory harpsichord continuo, and apart from two duettos, and one terzetto and one quintetto the arias are all solo items. The finale involves the whole cast, but again this form of presentation is wearing; I had to break up my viewing and listening into the separate acts, otherwise my attention would have wandered. These points apart. Riccardo Muti is to be congratulated in bringing to light a quite important work, previously neglected. The performance by the orchestra of La Scala is excellent, with well sprung rythms and plenty of bite to the strings.

One serious drawback is the booklet; the numbers of the arias bear no relation to the chapters of the items on screen, so to find a previously viewed item requires a feat of track hopping. Also, although the libretto is given in Italian, an English translation would have been a useful adjunct; true there are subtitles on screen available, but these by no means give the whole story.

Despite these criticisms the production is welcome as a musically historical document, and gives an insight into the development of opera as an art form.

John Portwood

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