|Ian Page and Classical Opera at Cadogan Hall|
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Apr 29 2016
Reform before Gluck, Classical Opera unearths Jommelli's remarkable 1766 opera
Often, the greatest art is made not by revolutionaries but by synthesizers, people who take remarkable developments and to create something really special. Monteverdi's L'orfeo was built on the foundations of the many lesser operas created in Florence from the 1590's, and Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice was preceded by experiments from other composer interested in changing opera seria, and introducing French elements into Italian baroque opera.
One such was the Neapolitan composer Niccolo Jommelli, who worked for the last 20 years of his life at the court of the Duke of Württemberg, giving him the score to experiment. Jommelli's operas are generally only experienced nowadays from recordings, if at all, so it was wonderful to find that as part of their Mozart 250 project, Ian Page and Classical Opera performed Jommelli's Il Vologeso at Cadogan Hall on Thursday 28 April 2016.
The young cast included Rachel Kelly as Vologeso, Gemma Summerfield as Berenice, Stuart Jackson as Lucio Vero, Angela Simkin as Lucilla, Jennifer France as Flavio and Tom Verney as Aniceto. Ian Page conducted the Orchestra of Classical Opera.
Il Vologeso was premiered in February 1766 in the brand new Schlosstheater at Ludwigsburg. The libretto was by Mattia Verazi, a long-time collaborator of Jommelli and someone whose texts could be a long way from the poised and cool classicism of Metastasio. The result sounded to me like Gluck at his most vigorous; in his article in the programme book Ian Page referred to the 'pungent dynamism' of Jommelli's music. Granted, secco recitative did tend to chug somewhat and Jommelli seemed to lack Handel's flair here but where Jommelli scores is in his use of accompanied recitative. In moments of stress, and there are many in the opera, the music breaks out into highly imaginative accompagnato. The other striking feature is that the first two acts each end in a remarkable vocal ensemble, and here you really do seem to feel Jommelli is looking forward.
Neither Jommelli nor Verazi seemed interested in preserving the conventions of opera seria in aspic, so that the exit aria convention (whereby a character leaves the stage after a major aria) is sometimes flouted, and Jommelli is not slavish in his use of full repeats in da capo arias. (Here I have to be a bit careful because in the version performed, Ian Page not only trimmed off three arias but another three lost their B sections and da capo repeats). That said, the plot seemed to be remarkably expeditious and almost dramatic.