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Giovanni Battista PERGOLESI (1710-1736)
Lo frate ’nnamorato - ‘Commedia per musica’ in three acts (1732)
Nicola Alaimo - Marcaniello; Elena Belfiore - Ascanio; Patrizia Biccirè - Nena; Jurgita Adamonytè - Nina; Barbara Di Castri - Luggrezia; David Alegret - Carlo; Laura Cherici - Vannella; Rosa Bove - Cardella; Filippo Morace - Don Pietro
Europa Galante/Fabio Biondo
rec. Teatro G.B. Pergolesi, Jesi, Italy 2011
Sound Format: PCM Stereo, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround
Picture Format: 16:9, 1080i
Region: Worldwide
Reviewed in surround
Subtitles: Italian, English, German, French, Spanish, Korean
ARTHAUS MUSIK 108 066 [160:00]

As noted in my review of La Salustia Pergolesi died very young even by composer standards, expiring of tuberculosis at the age of 26. The present workThe Brother in Love was composed in 1732 and was his first comic opera. It was so successful, surely to some extent because it was in the local Neapolitan language, that according to one source it was 'sung in the streets for twenty years', long after his death. It exhibits the plot characteristics that were to recur regularly in Italian comic opera for the best part of the next one hundred years. The range of emotions depicted is wide but this being a comedy the overriding tone is bright and lively. I have noted previously that in the 1960s and 1970s works by Pergolesi were nearly always simply 'attributed' to him and many orchestral and instrumental pieces have since been reassigned to other composers. I noted also that Stravinsky believed he had based his Ballet for voices and small orchestra, Pulcinella on fragments of works only by Pergolesi. Whilst this was often erroneous we have here the source of several of the pieces Stravinsky used, amongst them Don Pietro's Act 1 aria Pupillette fiammette d'amore and Vannella's Act 2 Chi disse ca la femmena. It is good to discover that Pergolesi's originals are just as much fun in performance as Stravinsky's pastiche versions.
The singing and playing in this performance are quite outstanding. Europa Galante is one of the world's finest baroque ensembles. Under Fabio Biondi this score bubbles and shines very brightly indeed. The singing and acting of Laura Cherici as the maid Vannella is but one high point in a set of beautifully observed performances. All the performers put maximum effort into this entertaining confection. There is an older DVD by La Scala and Muti that is more traditional in approach, both musically and as a production. On the present disc, despite its felicitous qualities, it is harder to understand the plot. The title Lo frate ’nnamorato is Neapolitan rather than Italian and best translates asThe Brother in Love: (rather than The Friar in Love - as it is on several websites - because there is no monk or monastery in the opera). The core issue is that two sisters have fallen for their own brother not realising that he is their brother. There is no useful synopsis in the booklet and the 1950s setting does nothing to help elucidate what is going on - I am sure Pergolesi would not have expected Don Pietro to arrive on a Vespa motor scooter - so one has to resort to guidance from Wikipedia. To save purchasers having to do the same, I paraphrase: the opera is set in the house of Marcaniello in Naples. Ascanio, the brother of Nina and Nena, was stolen by brigands in childhood and presumed lost; he was found and adopted by Marcaniello. Nina and Nena are the wards of Carlo. Carlo wishes to marry Luggrezia, the daughter of Marcaniello, who himself wishes to marry Nina and to take Nena as wife for his son Don Pietro. Nina and Nena have fallen in love with Ascanio, not realising he is their brother. The two maids Vanella and Cardella comment on and take part in the various intrigues. Finally, in a duel with Carlo, the latter recognises Ascanio as his lost nephew via a birthmark on his arm. Ascanio and Luggrezia are now free to marry. I am tempted to say this doesn't actually matter very much and you could do worse than enjoy the whole thing in blissful ignorance without subtitles. I would not go so far as to suggest switching off the pictures entirely because that would deprive you of the sight of this superb cast demonstrating that Italian baroque opera is very much alive and well.
It goes without saying that Arthaus have provided the above-mentioned subtitles if you can find them via your player handset and that the same applies to the surround soundtrack and to track access. Technically this disc is at the same high standards as the others from the Jesi Pergolesi and Spontini Festival. Top class sound and picture are combined with an informative essay (providing you concentrate), a full cast list and a track-listing with timings - but no synopsis. There are trailers for the other three Pergolesi operas in the series.
Dave Billinge