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Pietro Antonio CESTI (1623-1669)
La Dori (1657) Dramma Musicale in Tre Atti
Francesca Ascioti (alto) - Dori (Ali); Francesca Lombardi Mazzulli (soprano) - Arsinoe; Emöke Baráth (soprano) -Tolomeo and Celinda; Rupert Enticknap (counter-tenor) - Oronte; Frederico Sacchi (bass) - Artaserse; Bradley Smith (tenor) - Arsete; Alberto Allegrezza (tenor) - Dirce; Pietro Di Bianco (bass baritone) - Erasto; Rococ Cavalluzzi (bass) - Golo; Konstantin Derri (counter-tenor) - Bagoa;
Academia Bizantina/Ottavio Dantone;
Stefano Vizioli - Stage director;
Emanuele Sinsi - Set Designer;
Anna Maria Heinrich - Costume Designer;
Ralph Kopp - Lighting Designer;
Pierluigi Vanelli - Choreographer;
rec. August 21, 24 & 26 2019, Großes Haus, Tiroler Landestheater, Innsbrucker Festwochen, Austria
Sung in Italian with subtitles in English, German, Italian, Korean, Japanese;
Filmed in High Definition; Picture: 1080i/16:9 Anamorphic Widescreen;
Sound: LPCM Stereo/ DTS-HD Master 5.1; Region code: A,B,C
NAXOS Blu-ray NBD0123V [164:00]

The world of opera is absolutely filled to bursting with complicated plots; among them are numerous operas that involve an even more complex pre-curtain plot that is necessary to understand in order for the stage action to make any sense. Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov and Khovanshchina are both good examples of this type of opera. La Dori, however, wins the prize for the most complicated pre-curtain story it has been my misfortune to have to negotiate. Any plot that begins with eleven paragraphs of preamble is simply too much for this poor reviewer’s brain to cope with. Luckily for opera lovers La Dori turns out to be a highly enjoyable semi-comic drama which justifies its modern revival.

The CPO CD release of these same performances recently received an enthusiastic review from my colleague Gary Higginson. I quote his excellent summation of the opera’s plot here:

“I am not going into this plot in any great depth, it is, however, worth knowing that Dori is a princess of Nicosia and she is pledged to Orante (sic) a prince of Persia. Before they can be joined Orante has to return home on the death of his father. Later Dori is captured by bandits and wants to drown herself. Yet, you cry, the opera hasn’t started yet!

Meanwhile Orante dreams about Dori but he has pressure put on him to marry Arsinoe who is herself a princess and who, coincidentally, once saved Dori’s life. By the end of Act III, Orante agrees to do so but, on hearing it, Dori sends a letter declaring that she will kill herself. However, she was in fact disguised as another character, a slave named Ali and dramatically removes her camouflage admitting to only taking a sleeping potion, so that now Dori can indeed marry Oronte and Arsinoe can marry an Egyptian prince names Tolomeo. Needless to say, my summary is very basic omitting many other subplots but, hopefully, you get the idea.”

La Dori was one of three major operas that Pietro Antonio Cesti composed for the court opera at Innsbruck under the patronage of Archduke Ferdinand Karl of what was known as Further Austria, which included the Tyrol. Cesti’s operas of this period are notable because of the link they provide to later Baroque works that are more familiar to us. Chiefly he was the first composer to extend the amount of arioso that he used to tell the story. Monteverdi, and Cavalli before him, provide works that are mostly comprised of recitative with occasional brief but expressive forays into arioso melodies. Cesti made the two musicals forms sit in a more equal balance, which to this reviewer’s ear is all benefit.

It is a rather pleasing fact that the first commercial recordings of La Dori would derive from performances in the same city as the opera’s premiere in 1657. La Dori made the rounds of European opera houses for the rest of the 17th century and became one of the more popular works to be revived before eventually disappearing from the repertoire. These Innsbruck Festival performances have the benefit of an admirable production in the hands of Director Stefano Vizioli. Vizioli makes certain that the characters are very clearly delineated and that the comic turns are not permitted to overwhelm the drama. He also takes the drama at face value and doesn’t attempt to superimpose a spurious concept upon an opera that cannot support such narcissistic, directorial interventions. The sets are spare but provide extremely elegant and often quite beautiful support for the drama. Within this backdrop a series of ravishing and expensive looking costumes provide the necessary finish to each of the characters.

The cast of singers are all excellent and provide performances that do justice to this fine opera. Dori is sung by Francesca Ascioti, who imbues the role with her mahogany tone. I was impressed at how she uses her large, expressive eyes in a very Callas-Like fashion when she is singing. The character of Oronte is something of a pill throughout the opera, but he is tastefully sung by the handsome counter-tenor Rupert Enticknap. Tolomeo whom we first encounter as the young maiden Celinda is winningly portrayed by Emöke Baráth. Her vocal gifts will melt one’s heart and her physical movements are fascinating to watch as she changes her stance from woman to man, and then back again. Francesca Lombardi Mazzulli as Arsinoe has a perfect bisque doll appearance, which makes Oronte’s rejection of her all the more bizarre. Her vocal performance strikes gold every time she appears. The duet she sings with Celinda in Act One is among the riches of this score and gives a fair idea of the delights found in this opera. Bradley Smith delivers a vocally satisfying and dramatically trenchant turn as the tutor Arsete. Alberto Allegrezza gives a near perfect realization of the old nurse Dirce. He sings with pleasing tone and is completely adept at juxtaposing the alternately comic and threatening aspects of the character. The scene of Dirce concocting the sleeping potion is one of the opera’s best sections, not unlike a similar high point in Dvorak’s Rusalka. Another excellent assumption comes from the tall and willowy Konstantin Derri who is irrepressible as the eunuch Bagoa. Among The lower voiced members of the cast, Rococ Cavalluzzi makes a very satisfying servant/Jester in Golo and Pietro Di Bianco is a solid sober presence as Erasto. Everyone it seems gets a chance to shine in this opera and, remarkably, all the cast does so. Ottavio Dantone leads the performance with an obvious love for the score, and the Accademia Bizantina respond with nuance and virtuosity. My sole criticism of this disc is in regards to the filming. The video director seems to be overly fond of viewing the stage in long shots, frequently occurring when some important exchange is happening onstage. This causes the action to be lost and the compensating view of the rather spare stage is not an adequate replacement. This should not prevent anyone from acquiring this excellent and highly enjoyable release for their collection.

Mike Parr
Review of the CD issue by Gary Higginson

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