Alessandro SCARLATTI
(1660 - 1725)
Oratorio per la Santissima Trinita (1715) [67.27]
Fede – Roberta Invernizzi (soprano)
Amor divino – Veronique Gens (soprano)
Teologia – Vivica Genaux (mezzo)
Infedelta – Paul Agnew (tenor)
Tempo – Roberto Abbondanza (bass)
Europa Galante/Fabio Biondi
rec. 14-17 October 2003, Notre Dame du Liban, Paris
VIRGIN CLASSICS 628647 2 [67.27]

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 in structure.

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 two.

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 as Tempo.

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 Tempo.

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.

Robert Hugill

One of my discoveries of the year. Very fine singing and playing, combined with a work which seems to have an abundance of variety, displaying Scarlatti’s genius at its best.