Antonio SALIERI (1750-1825)
Il mondo alla rovescia (1795)
Maria Laura Martorana (soprano) - La Marchesa
Marco Filippo Romano (bass) - La Generala
Patrizia Cigna (soprano) - La Colonella
Rosa Bove (soprano) - L’Aiutanta Maggiore
Emanuele D’Aguanno (tenor) - Amaranto
Krystian Adam (tenor) - Girasole
Maurizio Lo Piccolo (bass) - Il Conte
Gianpiero Ruggi (baritone) - Il Vomandante, and Il Gran Colombo
Orchestra and Chorus of the Arena di Verona/Federico Maria Sardelli
rec. live,Teatro Filarmonico, Verona 20, 22, 24, 26 November 2009. DDD.
Notes and Synopsis in English, Italian, French and German
Libretto in Italian and English available online
DYNAMIC CDS 655/1-2 [76:21 + 62:47]

Since (at least) the Greeks, humorists, moralists and satirists have been fascinated by the artistic game of inversion, of “the world turned upside down”, which is how one might translate the title of this largely forgotten opera by Salieri. It here gets its first ever recording. Present an image of society turned on its head and you enable your audience/reader/viewer to see the actual way of things in a whole new light. Your aims may be to expose the follies and errors of the actual, to propose a better way of doing things, or simply to get some laughs from the resulting improbabilities and surprises - or, of course, a mixture of all these motives and more.

Il mondo alla rovescia sets a witty libretto by Caterino Mazzolà (1745-1806) - an accomplished poet and librettist, who was an acquaintance of Da Ponte and court poet at Dresden from 1780 to 1796, and who wrote libretti for such Dresden composers as Johann Gottlieb Naumann and Joseph Schuster. His name is perhaps most familiar as the man who prepared the libretto of La Clemenza di Tito for Mozart. Although Il mondo alla rovescia was first performed at the Burgtheater in Vienna on 13 January 1795, its origins go back rather earlier. In Italy in 1779 Mazzolà and Salieri had begun work on an opera called L’isola cappriciosa, but the project was left incomplete. In Vienna in 1791 the two of them took up the earlier project, revising and completing it, under the new title of Il mondo alla rovescia. In a sense the concept goes back some years earlier still - Mazzolà’s essential concept and (almost) his title - but very few details of the finished work - from a 1750 musical drama Il mondo alla roversa, o sia Le donne che comandano (which had music by Galuppi).

The central imaginative overturning in Mazzolà’s libretto concerns the eighteenth century roles of the sexes. The action is set on an unnamed island where there lives a community in which women dominate and govern. It was founded, we are told, by a group of European women at some unspecified point in the past, women who had grown tired of living lives as men’s inferiors. Here on the island women rule, women control the army and fight the wars. Women are the active partners when it comes to love and courtship. Things that are true of men back in Europe (in Vienna, for example?) are true of women on the island, and vice-versa. Here, complains one of the men on the island, for the male sex “the batting of an eyelid is enough to stain one’s immaculate honour”; yes, agrees the man with whom he is in conversation, how much more fortunate it is to be a woman: “For us (men) even one smile is a crime, a single minor slip. For them (women) being licentious is almost an attribute”. A scene of men dressmaking and sewing is juxtaposed with one of women preparing the weapons for war. Two modern Europeans are cast ashore on the island, a Count and a Marquise. The satiric and humorous possibilities of the idea are obvious and well exploited - it is surprising that one hears no audience laughter on these live recordings … but then one can’t hear the audience coughing either, so perhaps one shouldn’t assume that they didn’t laugh.

Opera has always been fond of blurring the clarity of gender distinctions (with so many roles played en travesti), while simultaneously dealing, very frequently, in stereotypes of male and female behaviour and attitude, so this trope has considerable appropriateness in the opera house. There is a gesture to all of this tradition in the casting of the Generala - the dominant woman on the island - as a bass. As an elderly ‘woman’, ‘she’ is also the butt of some cruel humour and the dupe of the cleverer young people - as in any good comedy, the young outwit the old. Her ‘love’ for the castaway Count (also a bass) provides some of the grotesque humour, not least in their love duets. Both roles are very decently sung - Marco Filippo Romano is heard at his best in ‘Ah sfacciata, senza onore’, towards the end of Act II, though on the evidence of ears alone Romano doesn’t perhaps do as much to characterise the Generala as one might have hoped in some parts of the work; perhaps one might feel different seeing the performance. As the Count, object of desire for both the Generala and the younger Colonella, Maurizio Lo Piccolo communicates both confusion and natural authority and is in particularly good voice in his aria ‘Alle nozze questa sera’ in Act II. Overall the generally young cast acquits itself perfectly satisfactorily, without ever persuading one that this is the very best that could be made of the work. As the Colonella, soprano Patrizia Cigna sings her Act I aria ‘A trionfar mi chiama’ with some pleasing coloratura and gives a deal of pleasure in the two part aria ‘Speranza addio: è forza’, in which melting melancholy and self-pity is succeeded by anger and determination. The Marchesa is particularly well sung by Maria Laura Martorana who is notably accomplished in recitative; her ‘Che faro? Che sarà mai?’ is especially pleasing - here is an aria that deserves to find a way onto recital programmes/discs, not least for the way in which Salieri’s writing for woodwinds complements the voice. She is also impressive in her ‘storm’ aria (‘Quando pił irato freme’) in Act II. Krystian Adam is a lively and entertaining Girasole, with more than a touch of the modern Milanese modisto about him, extolling the camp charms of the clothes he makes … and names.

Salieri’s musical invention is impressive throughout. One of the odd delights of Mazzolà’s libretto is a quasi-religious order (called the Casti Colombi - Chaste Doves) which exists to preserve the honour of young men from predatory women and in amongst the lively and essentially comic nature of most of the music, Salieri produces some beautifully grave music at the approach to the retreat of the Casti Colombi as part of the complex and richly entertaining finale of Act I. So far as one can judge on first acquaintance with the work, Federico Maria Sardelli’s tempi are well judged and he works in sensitive support of the singers. Without doing anything to dazzle or startle, the playing of the Orchestra of the Arena di Verona is assured.

This is a fascinating work, which well merits this first recording. Unless and until a starrier cast is one day successfully assembled and Il mondo alla rovescia is recorded again, this will do very well.

Glyn Pursglove

A fascinating work in a pleasing debut recording