Giovanni Battista Pergolesi - Adriano in Siria
Teatro G. B. Pergolesi, Jesi, 2010
Ottavio Dantone, Ignacio García, Accademia Bizantina, Marina Comparato, Lucia Cirillo, Annamaria dell’Oste, Nicole Heaston, Stefano Ferrari, Francesca Lombardi, Monica Bacelli, Carlo Lepore
Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s opera works were popular in his lifetime, and the subject even of a famous dispute in France between those in favour of the Italian buffa opera style that he innovated and model followed by Lully and Rameau, but the composer died in 1736 at the age of 26 with only six operas to his name, and his works are rarely performed nowadays. Best known now for mainly for his Stabat Mater, few will have heard of Pergolesi’s Adriano di Siria, one of the composer’s opera seria works from 1734, so the opportunity to hear it played in authentic period style at the Teatro G. B. Pergolesi in the composer’s home town of Jesi is tremendously exciting, particularly with the superb 2010 performance presented here on Blu-ray disc from Opus Arte.
You might not have heard of Adriano in Siria or be familiar with Pergolesi, but the chances are that if you’ve any familiarity with Baroque opera, you will at least have heard of Pietro Metastasio, the poet and dramatist responsible for librettos that were used and reused in literally hundreds of early compositions (Adriano in Siria had already been set to music several times before Pergolesi) – and if that’s the case then you will have a fair idea of what to expect from the development of the plot and its treatment in an opera seria work. Historically or classically based, Metastasio’s librettos often feature a powerful king or ruler, who is usually in love with a woman who is engaged to be married to another man. There are often a few additional variable complications where the man she is engaged to is in love for someone else, who is turn is actually in love with the king, and so on…
…cue confrontations between each of the principal figures during the recitative, with long heartfelt, reflective and repetitive virtuoso arias of despair, anger, love and compassion, according to the turn of events. These power-play games, which are more romantic in nature than political or historical, are usually wrapped up neatly with the ruler exercising their power wisely and each of the characters being matched to their appropriate partner. That applies as much to Adriano in Siria (relating to the Roman emperor Hadrian) as it does to Ezio, Il Re Pastore or La Clemenza di Tito (or even Tamerlano, which is not by Metastasio but clearly follows the model he defined). What distinguishes the adapting any Metastasio’s libretto to music is of course the interpretation of the composer, and in this case Pergolesi’s handling of this fairly dry and static dramatic material is every bit as brilliant and enchanting as Handel, Gluck or Mozart.
It’s possible that more could be made of the actual drama in the staging, but as far as this production at Jesi goes, there doesn’t appear to be any attempt to impose a modern reworking or concept onto the opera, which is played and performed in a quite traditional manner. The set design is fairly static, the location an all-purpose, generic, classical ruin of antiquity, the costumes those of the period – togas, tunics and robes. The ruins however, while they relate to the results of the war between Rome and the Parthians in Antioch, can also been taken as a metaphor for the romantic conflict and the anguish that it causes each of the characters. Another metaphor in this production relates to birds, a real-life bird of prey carried on at the start of the opera, and caged birds are seen elsewhere, being particularly relevant during Farnaspe’s gorgeous aria at the end of Act I, ‘Lieto così tal volta’ (“At times the nightingale is heard, still happily singing in its captivity”), which, sung by Annamaria dell’Oste with an onstage solo oboe accompaniment that evokes birdsong, gives an indication of the beauty and the wholeness of the production, singing, music and libretto working together in perfect harmony.
Elsewhere the musical arrangements perfectly reflect the nature of the characters and their emotional state at any given time. Later parts of the libretto make reference to tempests and torments (emotional as well as meteorological) and the Accademia Bizantina appropriately whip up a storm in the pit with a huge sound from what appears to be only an 18-piece orchestra. Most of the roles are female, or are females in some of the male roles (the part of Farnaspe however was originally a mezzo-soprano castrato role – one can only imagine how that would have sounded!), but the music is notably more aggressive with heavy percussive harpsichord rhythms, for example, when the only male character, Osroa (Stefano Ferrari), is on stage, full of jealousy or rage and with threats of violence. When contrasted with the aforementioned ‘Lieto così tal volta’, you get a sense of the whole dynamic of Adriano in Siria, which is sung simply and beautifully by all the performers, with da capo but no excessive ornamentation.
If that’s not enough on its own, you get two works for the price of one here that demonstrate the range and innovation of Pergolesi. A comic opera Intermezzo would often be performed in the breaks between acts, and one of Pergolesi’s buffa operas, ‘Livietta e Tracollo’, composed for a Neapolitan audience, is included in this performance in two parts in the intervals between the acts of Adriano in Siria as it would originally have been presented. There’s very little plot to speak of here either, just disguises and farce as Livietta sets a trap for a notorious thief Tracollo and ends up marrying him, but it has two good parts for singers and they are entertainingly delivered with gusto and plenty of comic gesticulation by Monica Bacelli and Carlo Lepore.
The Blu-ray release for Opus Arte looks and sounds terrific, with a clear, sharp colourful transfer, the music and singing superbly reproduced in both the PCM Stereo and the DTS HD-Master Audio 5.1 tracks with crystal clarity and depth of tone, capturing the detail of the instruments and the ambience of the old theatre. Extras include a Cast Gallery and an Interview with conductor Ottavio Dantone. The inner booklet notes the intention of the Pergolesi Spontini Foundation to record and issue all of Pergolesi’s surviving operas on DVD, which, if this first release is anything to go by, will be highly anticipated.