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Giovanni Battista PERGOLESI (1710-1736)
Il prigionier superbo - musical drama in three acts:-
Sostrate - Antonio Lozano; Rosmene - Marina Rodriguez Cusi; Metalce - Marina De Liso; Ericlea - Ruth Rosique; Viridate - Marina Comparato; Micisda - Giacinta Nicotra
La serva padrona, intermezzo in two parts:-
Serpina - Alessandra Marianelli; Uberto - Carlo Lepore; Vespone - Jean Méningue
Accademia Barocca de I Virtuosi Italiani/Corrado Rovaris
Stage Director - Henning Brockhaus
Recorded at the Teatro G.B Pergolesi, Jesi, 2009 (Prigionier) and 2011 (Serva padrona)
Sound Format PCM Stereo, DD5.1. Picture Format 16:9. Subtitles Italian, English, German, French, Spanish, Korean, Region Code 0 (worldwide). DVD5 + DVD9 NTSC
ARTHAUS MUSIK DVD 101 654 [2 DVDs: 177:00]

As sports pundits would have it, this is very much a question of two halves. In fact it’s a question of two DVDs. Pergolesi’s Il prigionier superbo (The Proud Prisoner) is an opera seria first staged in 1733. Pergolesi also wrote La serva padrona (The Servant Turned Mistress), a comic intermezzo, as an inter-act entertainment for the bigger work. He could hardly have foreseen that the comic work would almost wholly efface the opera seria it was designed to support. Il prigionier superbo dropped like a stone from the repertoire, whilst La serva padrona went on to enjoy considerable cachet. Despite the fact that the same orchestra, conductor and director are involved in both presentations the two works were actually staged two years apart. Thus the intermezzo is not slotted into its inter-act place, as Pergolesi intended, but retains independence on a separate disc. If you did want to experience something of what the original audience did, you will have some disc juggling on your hands.
The comic intermezzo works very well. The action takes place backstage at a circus and features only two singers and a deft turn from a non-singing actor with a taste for slapstick, Jean Méningue. Soprano Alessandra Marianelli is plausible and self-confident, and sings extremely well. The bass is Carlo Lepore, sage and knowing, and a considerable stage animal. Orchestra and conductor dovetail splendidly though the sound could be clearer and instrumental strands could be more refined. Henning Brockhaus’ direction is imaginative, almost cinematic in places and great fun.
These aren’t necessarily qualities that come to mind when considering Il prigionier superbo. I appreciate that the opera involves the Goths, but I’m not sure characters should really be got up as Goth Girls - there’s a whiff of bondage in the foetid cavernous air of the cavern in which the characters are trapped - there is no change of scene. To add to the bizarre staging, large puppets follow, ape and mirror the action - they are moved by very visible puppeteers in black capes. The element of puppet theatre, Goth punkettes, and stylised action adds up to a very strange melange indeed - one on which it’s probably best not to spend too much time. The singing here is consistent, but it’s not consistently excellent. The more virtuosic passages are usually well taken, if subject to worrying discrepancies in pitch, but the slower music lacks tonal breadth. That said, the singers show stylistic niceties and they are considerably better than the production itself. The sound again is a little cloudy.
This is a shame, as the music is not noticeably inferior to Vivaldi’s operatic works and much could be made of Il prigionier in a sensitive staging which respected its contours and sense of theatrical placement. In the end I can only be lukewarm about this set - though I am very much more sympathetic to the excellent La serva padrona. Why couldn’t Brockhaus expend as much wit on the bigger work?
Jonathan Woolf