La Santissima Trinita was one of the last of Alessandro
Scarlatti’s forty or so oratorios. It was performed in Naples
in May 1715. By 1715 Scarlatti’s career had taken him to Rome,
Naples, Venice and Tuscany. In 1708 he returned to Naples and
was based there for the remainder of his career. In fact, most
of Scarlatti’s oratorios were written for Rome. The genre had
originated there and it continued to flourish, nourished by
the fact that the Popes were opposed to opera per se.
In fact many oratorios had a dramatic structure not unlike opera
and were effectively sacred operas. Scarlatti’s previous efforts
in the genre had been mainly either dramatic settings of Old
Testament subjects such as Judith or Cain, or paraphrases of
the New Testament.
La Santissima Trinita is different to these, instead
of a dramatic biblical theme, it takes as its subject a theological
discussion on the mysteries of the Holy Trinity. This type of
oratorio originated in the 17th century and by the
early 18th was becoming quite rare. Though in fact
Handel’s Trionfo el Tempo e del Disinganno (from 1707)
and Caldara’s Vaticini del Pace (from 1712) are similar
The work was intended to be an aid to religious learning, the
idea being that these things are easier if they contain an element
of enjoyment. This clothing of learning in a lighter garb was
something that the Jesuits were quite keen on. It is probably
that La Santissima Trinita was acted out in front of
the altar at one of the Conservatories where castrati were trained.
Whilst the libretto might be rather dry, the music is anything
but. Scarlatti seems to have used all of his charms to elucidate
the text and the result is a charming and involving work. Amazingly
he uses quite small forces to do this: five soloists accompanied
by strings and continuo, singing alternating arias and recitatives
with the occasional duet and a final quintet. In terms of textures,
Scarlatti introduces elements of the concerto grosso to provide
a wonderful variety.
As might be expected given the 18th century emphasis
on high voices, the higher voices are the most important. Fede
(Faith), soprano, gets five arias and four duets; Amor divino
(Divine Love), soprano, gets four arias and two duets, Teologia
(Theology), mezzo-soprano, gets four arias and one duet, Infedelta
(Faithlessness), tenor, gets three arias and one duet, with
Tempo (Time), bass, receiving just three arias. The oratorio
is in two parts and there would have been a sermon between the
The musical style is primarily operatic and the original singers
would have found Scarlatti’s arias not very much different to
those in his operas. Despite the rather dry tone of the libretto,
Scarlatti creates a rather dramatic whole. The musical material
is surprisingly varied and the singers make the most of it.
This is certainly no sober religious offering, but a lively
and dramatic piece.
This recording was first issued in 2004 and is one of a number
of recordings of Scarlatti’s oratorios made by Fabio Biondi
and Europa Galante. There is an extremely strong cast, with
Roberta Invernizzi as Fede, Veronique Gens as Amor divino, Vivica
Genaux as Teologia, Paul Agnew as Infedelta and Roberto Abbondanza
The results are as ideal as could be. Scarlatti’s imagination
seems to have been amazingly fertile given the rather limited
palate of colours that he had available. Time and again I found
details and textures which delighted, such as the aria Teologia
accompanied just by two cellos and continuo. The instrumental
playing is of a fine order with some lovely solo playing from
the solo instrumental quartet (Fabio Biondi, Andrea Rognoni,
Stefano Marcocchi and Maurizio Naddeo).
All three high voices, Invernizzi, Gens and Genaux, have their
moments in the spotlight and all three do not fail to delight.
Agnew makes an impassioned Infedelta with Abbondanza as a fine
But much as I enjoyed the work, I would rather have liked to
know what was going on. For this re-issue Virgin have omitted
the libretto and though there is a fine article on the work,
there is no detailed synopsis.
This disc must rank as one of my discoveries of the year; some
very fine singing and playing, combined with a work which seems
to have an abundance of variety, displaying Scarlatti’s genius
at its best. Just don’t ask what’s going on.