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Agnesi arias TC720102
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Maria Teresa AGNESI (1720-1795)
Arie dall'opera Sofonisba
Recitativo introduttivo: Forse men di Roma [0:43]
Dall'eterno felice soggiorno [6:22]
Dubbia ancor [9:09]
Da me che mai vorresti [6:25]
Pensa che in te riposa [7:36]
Spera Roma [5:48]
Dille che se catene non vuol [3:47]
Fore verrà quel dì [5:38]
La tua sol fra l'alme belle [8:39]
Elena De Simone (mezzo-soprano)
Ensemble Il Mosaico
rec. July 2019, Chiesa di San Vito, Coli (PC), Italy
No texts included
TACTUS TC720102 [54:10]

The Italian label Tactus is paying attention to a little-known female composer of the mid-18th century, Maria Teresa Agnesi. A few months ago I reviewed a disc with concertante arias and this second disc includes arias from one of her operas. It is not the first time music from her pen appears on disc. Earlier, a harpsichord sonata and a harpsichord concerto were recorded. Even so, many music lovers may have never heard of her.

She was born in Milan, and lived there all her life. She showed her musical talents at a young age, but as she was from an aristocratic family, it was impossible to be a professional musician. She performed with her equally talented sister, and as the French author Charles de Brosses heard them, he was very impressed. She was educated at the keyboard, which explains why she at an early age played pieces by Rameau, and also composed for the harpsichord. Moreover, she was an excellent singer, and this comes to the fore in the various vocal compositions in her oeuvre. In the dramatic department she has written six operas and one serenata. Three operas have been preserved complete, one has been lost and two others have survived only fragmentarily.

Agnesi was not the first who wrote an opera about Sofonisba. Earlier Christoph Willibald von Gluck and Niccolò Jommelli had done the same. They used different librettos, and Agnesi set a third, but as this libretto has not been preserved, it is not known who the author was. Robert L. Kendrick, in his liner-notes, mentions that the story of Agnesi's opera is simpler than those set by Gluck and Jommelli. It was probably written between 1747 and 1749 and has been preserved in the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek in Vienna, with the Habsburg arms on its binding. This indicates that Agnesi composed this work for performance in Vienna; it was dedicated to Francis of Lorraine, consort of Empress Maria Theresa. She may have hoped for a performance on the empress's name day, but there are no records of a performance, and the score also does not include any performance markings.

The orchestral scoring is for strings and basso continuo and includes obbligato parts for piccolos, oboes, horns and trumpets. The latter are involved in two martial arias included in this selection from the opera. The programme opens with a recitative, which is followed by an aria with obbligato trumpets. Next follow six arias of different characters in the soprano and alto range, and the disc closes with an aria in honour of the Austrian empress.

The assessment of the previous disc wasn't made easier by the lack of lyrics, and that is also the case here. That makes it impossible to analyse how Agnesi treats the text. However, just as in the case of the arias, that does not prevent me from concluding that Maria Teresa Agnesi was an excellent composer who fully deserves the attention she is given by Elena De Simone and the Ensemble Il Mosaico. There is quite some variety within this programme of arias, spanning the whole range from the belligerent to the intimate. The closing aria is one of the most beautiful, with a nice swaying rhythm.

Elena De Simone turns out to be an ideal interpreter for this repertoire. I appreciated her performances on the previous disc, but here she is even better. I have very much enjoyed what she is offering here. She has no problems with the different tessituras of the arias, and she sings with great sensitivity. The more extraverted arias come off just as well as the more lyrical ones. The Ensemble Il Mosaico is the perfect partner. It delivers energetic performances, and the obbligato parts are perfectly executed.

In short, this is a convincing case for the oeuvre of Maria Teresa Agnesi. It seems to me that there are good reasons for a complete performance and recording of this opera.

Johan van Veen

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