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Alessandro STRADELLA (1639-1682)
La Doriclea
Doriclea – Emöke Baráth (soprano)
Delfina – Gabriella Martellacci (contralto)
Lucinda – Giuseppina Bridelli (mezzo-soprano)
Celindo – Luca Cervoni (tenor)
Giraldo – Riccardo Novaro (baritone)
Fidalbo – Xavier Sabata (countertenor)
Il Pomo d'Oro/Andrea De Carlo
rec. 3-9 September 2017, Scuderie Farnese, Caprarola, Viterbo, Italy
Booklet notes and synopsis in English, French, and Italian
Italian libretto with English and French translations
ARCANA A454 [3 CDs: 188:21]

The operas of Stradella, like much of his output more generally, are perhaps oddly underestimated. His seven such compositions – not counting his very stageworthy oratorios such as San Giovanni Battista, or his revision of Cavalli’s Giasone – written in the 1670s and early ’80s represent something of a transition between the more fluid, looser structures of Italian opera as it had developed over the course of the 17th century, and the more formalised opera seria which was being cultivated in his lifetime, reaching fruition in the first decades of the 18th.

It is not surprising that La Doriclea has remained more or less unknown, even within the limited extent to which Stradella’s work has received exposure in modern times, as the manuscript only came to light in 1938, and appears to have been edited only recently in order to facilitate a full performance, although it has been recorded before. Arnaldo Morelli’s otherwise useful notes omit much more detail about the process of musical archaeology which has brought the work to light, but he argues that as the score was found among the collections of a musician in Rome, and the libretto likely to have been written by a member of the aristocratic Orsini family who lived there, it is probable that this was the first full opera Stradella composed, whilst he was also resident at that city until the end of 1677.

In terms of cast and plot, the opera is relatively taut and narrow in scope as it comprises just six roles, dividing into three pairs of lovers, with each couple representing a different social caste. The characters celebrate, rue, and reflect on the complications of love, arising either externally from social proprieties and conventions, or internally from the emotional kinks or preferences of the personalities concerned. A decision by Doriclea to elope early on in the narrative is the cause for shifting the action to a woodland setting, which is the cue for a mind-boggling sequence of disguises, deceptions, high jinks, amorous games, transferred affections, and vengeances among the group. If the similar situation amidst the dark woods during the last thirty minutes of The Marriage of Figaro seems difficult to follow, then the narrative Gordian knot of La Doriclea which is sustained across three acts and as many hours constitutes a wholly different level of sophistication – or pointless contortion, depending on one’s point of view and degree of patience.

The music itself will also delight or tax, depending on the listener’s propensity for Baroque intricacy. There are a plethora of arias and ariosos, often as fleeting as the emotions depicted: among over eighty tracks across three discs, only eleven numbers last over three minutes, and of those, just four extend a little beyond four minutes. Listeners who bemoan the rigidity of high opera seria in the later period of Handel and Vivaldi, with its usually strict succession of recitatives and lengthier da capo arias, need only hear this opera to understand that, in the form the genre had reached towards the end of the 17th century, it surely needed some structural harness to bind it into a more formal and less sprawling or fractalizing unity.

Nonetheless, a work such as La Doriclea still presents a thrilling musical experience and Andrea De Carlo sustains that ebullience magnificently with Il Pomo d’Oro, right from their energetic launch of the work, which begins without any overture – De Carlo was surely wise not to add yet another musical dimension to the teeming score. Strumming guitars often add impetus to the continuo accompaniment, which comprises the major part of the instrumental layer of this work, in common with other operas of its era. However, the silvery lustre provided by the violins in the more elaborate ritornelli which frame the larger arias offer an additional, irresistible veneer of vitality, with their crisp articulation.

Doubtless it would be easier to follow the plot, with its disguises and deceptions, if one could see it staged. But in the absence of that, the characters are vividly dramatised by the cast of singers here, who are seasoned exponents of Baroque opera and easily capable of developing audibly distinctive and idiosyncratic vocal presences to lead the listener through the work by the ear alone.

Doriclea and her lover, Fidalbo, represent the middle social strand in this opera. Emöke Baráth makes a bold and bright entrance in the title role, leaving no doubt as to who the heroine of the drama is. She is a woman who knows her own heart and desires, as demonstrated in her fearsome dialogue with Fidalbo in Act II (CD 2 track 15) but otherwise always exudes charm and grace, as evident in her yearning for him at the opening of that Act. In a sign of the distribution of voice types that would come to dominate Baroque opera, the part of her lover is written for the high male range of an alto. Countertenor Xavier Sabata takes that role, expressing his amorousness with mellifluous eloquence, and his frustrations and laments with a tender, liquid tone, though elsewhere there is sometimes an element of fluster in his more extrovert passages.

Lucinda and Celindo are the aristocratic pair, ably realised as such by Giuseppina Bridelli and Luca Cervoni respectively. Where the former contrasts a private demeanour of humility and vulnerability with her more public face of imperiousness and command, Cervoni forges a generally calm, lyrical line in his music which elicits sympathy for his patience, despite his occasionally dry, nasal tone. Giraldo and Delfina take the place in this opera of the earthy, comic, even lewd servants of earlier 17th century drama. Their unillusioned, unsentimental musings on love, with its games and flirtations, provide an amusing and ironic foil to the self-indulgent flights of amorous fancy engaged in by the others. If Gabriella Martellacci tends to be rather deadpan and could despatch some of her altercations with Giraldo more sharply, Riccardo Novaro certainly colours his part with much good humour and wit, making some of his numbers among the musical highlights of the whole work. The release proves to be a valuable addition not only to the ongoing Stradella Project on the Arcana label with De Carlo, but also to our knowledge and appreciation of a rewarding composer.

Curtis Rogers



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