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In search of Scarlatti
Add date: Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Rinaldo Alessandrini appeared in the collective awareness of Polish music lovers some 25 years ago as an author of a new, fresh and innovative interpretation of Monteverdi’s madrigals, brought to life by his ensemble, Concerto Italiano. Over a decade later, the artist became a regular guest of the Misteria Paschalia festival. Yesterday, he had brought with him one of Scarlatti’s oratorios, the rare Cain overo il primo omicidio.

 

The story of the first murder, based on the Book of Genesis was written for six characters: two pairs – Adam and Eve and their sons, Cain and Abel, as well as God and Lucifer – appearing here as the Voice of God and Voice of Lucifer. The often moralising text presents the murder of Abel as a prefiguration of Christ, which allows the first parents to almost rejoice after the loss of two sons (“one taken by death, the other one by sin”). It is quite understandable, especially given that the piece is not an opera, but an oratorio; such tendencies are therefore to be expected. It might be somewhat problematic that not everyone was fully convinced by the libretto of the work, including, as it seems, the composer himself, who visibly struggled to find moments that would allow him to make the work more lively and authentic. The struggles did not always bring him an acceptable solution, and the composer seems to relinquish words and replace them with pure music; in some parts of the work instrumental sinfonias put there by the composer tell the audience more than the recitatives and arias – especially the “hellish” sinfonia, which introduces Lucifer, and the preceding one, which foreshadows a tragedy. It is true that the composer had no influence over the libretto, written by Antonio Ottoboni, a Venetian patrician and the father of an influential cardinal, Pietro Ottoboni. The cardinal was Scarlatti’s protector, and the composer could not risk losing his favour.
 

 

The piece, rarely showing any dramatic moments, usually very moderate and somehow oratorial in its entirety, was interpreted in a way that did not try to forcefully find expression that was simply not there. Alessandrini seems to be the most constructivist of all Italian conductors performing early music – he does not attempt to woo the audience with virtuosity, crazy tempos or spectacular basso continuo, nor does he captivate the listener with rich articulation. Instead, he focuses on presenting the construction of the music, its forms, plans and technique in a precise and dynamic manner. In yesterday’s performance the orchestra skilfully demonstrated their full, beautiful and distinctive sound, and the sinfonias gained a special meaning. However, they were not the only noteworthy aspects of the work – the construction of the entire oratorio was impressively outlined, and the accompaniment in the arias, such as in Cain’s “Bramo insieme e morte, e vita” (from the second part of the oratorio, it seemed to be performed freely and with more confidence) sounded lively and authoritative, with great clarity and consistency.
 

The voice and the technique demonstrated by Carlo Allemano, who is a frequent guest in Krakow, are specific and they don’t appeal to everyone. During the concert, his Adam developed and reached the peak of his abilities in duets with Eve, played by Roberta Invernizzi, well-known and loved by the festival audiences. The soprano turned out to be one of the strongest points of the evening – no other character came close to her in terms of emotions and vocal skills. Sadly, Eva was given only that single dimension by the authors of the oratorio – the most dramatic and complex character of the piece is Cain, whose part was performed by Sonia Prina, another great artist, who perfectly captured the complexity of this man – at first plagued by jealousy, then by his desire for revenge and internal conflict (which could be clearly heard in “Perché mormora il ruscello”), and then finally accepting the burden of his guilt.
 

In contrary, Abel is such an idyllic character that it makes him devoid of any character. However, Monica Piccinini helped to bring this character to life in the second part of the oratorio – ironically, just before the character dies. The Voice of God, played by countertenor Aurelio Schiavoni and the impressive and quite convincing Voice of Lucifer, performed by Salvo Vitale, a great bass and yet another regular guest of the Festival completed the cast. The three singers – Invernizzi, Prina and Vitale – could successfully carry the oratorio by themselves. 

Despite being one of the most important composers of the Baroque, Alessandro Scarlatti rarely appears on stages and in concert halls worldwide. It seems that we still have to look for his most attractive works, the key to his creations.
 

 Pic. Wojciech Wandzel, www.wandzelphoto.com

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