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Alessandro STRADELLA (1639-1682)
Il Trespolo tutore (1679) – Commedia in three Acts to a libretto by Giovanni Cosimo Villifranchi
Trespolo – Andrzej Lenart
Artemisia – Paulina Tuzińska
Ciro – Magdalena Pikuła
Nino – Rafał Tomkiewicz
Simona – Paweł Kowalewski
Despina – Marta Huptas
rec. Collegium Nobilium Theatre, Warsaw, Poland, March 2018
The Period Instrument Orchestra of the Interdepartmental Unit of Early Music of the Fryderyk Chopin University of Music/Andrea De Carlo
Director: Paweł Paszta
Recording Director: Aleksander Wyszyński and Robert Wyszyński
DVD 5 Format. 4.0 Quadro/Dolby Digital 2.0
DUX 8512 DVD [155 mins]

Although not very typical of Stradella’s stage works as an early form of essentially comic opera, with a prototype of the buffo bass role, Il Trespolo tutore is probably the composer’s best known composition for the theatre. The slow-witted but amorously inclined Trespolo will be recognised as the progenitor of more famous buffoons as Bartolo in The Barber of Seville, or Don Pasquale. This recording claims to be the world premiere of the work’s original version, but the booklet does not explain the background to this and how it differs from subsequent versions, offering instead only a brief outline of Stradella’s life and work, as well as director Paweł Paszta’s reflections on his production.

Paszta takes his cue from the world of commedia dell’arte – an influence on the work originally – insofar as the characters are dressed in bright, outlandish costumes which derive from that genre. Their colourful appearance and the energetic choreography which is concentrated upon a round dais on the stage make up for the lack of anything else on the set, except for the curtain at the back through which the characters enter, or mischievously appear, again making this a consciously ‘theatrical’ interpretation of the work. Indeed, the characters’ busy actions run in tandem with the teeming score, and their suggestive mimes which often mirror the double entendres of the libretto may prove at times too distracting for some viewers, especially prudish ones. But the production certainly exhilarates by echoing the lively pace of the music itself, which is full of jaunty, ear-catching melody in its quickfire succession of recitative and generally brief arias; and the ribald action only recalls the similar content of contemporaneous Restoration comedy in England. The fact that the male soprano role of Ciro is sung by a woman, and the lusty old nurse Simona is taken by a bearded man in drag, in typically outrageous Venetian fashion, only adds winningly to the frolics as well as tapping into present-day debates about gender roles.

The young, enthusiastic, and fresh-voiced cast clearly enjoy the fun of it all, and the wiry timbre of the one-to-a-part ensemble directed by Andrea De Carlo impels the drama irresistibly and with alacrity. De Carlo also directs a more extensive and polished audio account of the opera with a different band as part of the Stradella Project on the Arcana label, which presents a more sober alternative to this DVD. But the visual dimension of this latter undoubtedly brings the score irresistibly to life, as the instrumental forces of the Period Instrument Orchestra of the Fryderyk Chopin University of Music gambol and delight in this music.

Andrzej Lenart despatches the title role with aplomb, behind milk-bottle spectacles and a pot belly, and delivering his music in a deliberately mannered, throaty way so as to create a comedically nerdish and unprepossessing demeanour. Paulina Tuzińska is versatile as Artemisia, the young lady in love with her tutor, and tries all the means she can to hint at this to him, who completely fails to understand, being besotted himself with Marta Huptas’s fiery and sassy Despina.

Rafał Tomkiewicz instils expressive force and nobility to the part of Nino, particularly in his lovesick laments and madness, which add an element of seriousness to the work, lifting it from the merely farcical into the realm of high comedy. As his brother, Ciro, each playing the other off in their attempts to win Artemisia, Magdalena Pikuła provides apt contrast with her vigorous, sparkling signing. Making no less of a dramatic impact is Paweł Kowalewski’s knowing and arch performance as Simona, who offers amusing sartorial wisdom in a scene at the outset of Act II as the high jinks really start to take off.

This is a visually and musically entertaining realisation of an engaging comedy within the small scale of what is essentially a conservatoire production, and all the better for it on account of its youthful open-mindedness and vitality. It avoids extraneous dramaturgical concepts and scenarios, and so stays true to the ebullient spirit of Stradella’s masterly composition.
Curtis Rogers

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