Saturday, 1 February 2014

Alessandro Scarlatti - Carlo Re dAlemagna

Carlo Re d'Alemagna - agOgique - ACO015
Alessandro Scarlatti - Carlo Re d'Alemagna: Stavanger Symphony Orchestra, Fabio Biondi: agOgiqe
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 7 2014
Star rating: 4.5

A vivid and highly dramatic account of a lesser known, but important early 18th century opera

Alessandro Scarlatti is an important figure in the history of 18th century opera, with over 65 works surviving, but rather under-represented in the recording catalogue. Now we have his last opera written for Naples, Carlo Re d'Alemagna performed by Fabio Biondi and the Stavanger Symphony Orchestra. They are joined by a strong cast including Romina Basso, Roberta Invernizzi, Marina de Liso, Marianne Beate Kielland, Carlo Allemano, Jose Maria Lo Monaco, Damiana Pinti and Roberto Abbondonza in a piece which mixes comedy and tragedy in typical Neapolitan fashion. Here it receives a vivid and brilliant performance on discs on the agOgique label.




Though Scarlatti work in Florence and Rome, he had two long periods in Naples (1684 - 1702 and 1708-1716) where he established the 18th century Neapolitan school of opera and wrote a considerable number of works. His opera Carlo Re d'Alemagna was his last for Naples, written in 1716 and premiered at the Teatro San Bartolomeo in January 1716 with a cast including Margherita Durastantini and Sensino, two of the most famous singers in Europe and both of whom would be associated with Handel's music.

The opera is the usual Neapolitan mixture of comedy and tragedy, couched in an alternation of recitative and aria. In structure the piece is not dissimilar to one of Handel's and in fact it was Alessandro Scarlatti who was responsible for developing this formal recitative/aria structure.

The plot is loosely based on history. The title role is a silent one as Carlo (Charles the Bald, who became Holy Roman Emperor) is a child king. Giuditta (Roberta Invernizzi) is the widow of the previous Emperor. Her son Carlo is rumoured to be illegitimate. Lotario (Romina Basso) the late Emperor's son by a previous wife, comes to claim the throne. He is purposeful and prepared to kill Carlo. Giuditta is noble and dignified, but becomes maddened with grief when Carlo is taken from her.

Giuditta's daughter, Gildippe (Marina de Liso), is in love with Lotario's son, Adalgiso (Marianne Beate Kielland) giving the opera a Romeo and Juliet element. There are two nobles, Asprando () who will stop at nothing to be on the winning side, and Berardo () the queen's chamberlain who is worried because falsely rumoured to be the queen's lover.

The comic element is provided by Giiuditta's maid, Armilla (Damiana Pinti), and Lotario's master of arms, Bleso (Roberto Abbondonza).

The whole is played out in three leisurely acts. Scarlatti scores is richly, using pairs of trumpets, horns, oboes, bassoons and recorders plus timpani.

From the first moments of the overture, it is clear that this is going to be a vivid and arresting performance. Though playing on modern instruments, the orchestra has worked on early music for over 20 years with Franz Bruggen, Philip Herreweghe and now Fabio Biondi (who directs from the violin).

Romina Basso has the male lead in the Sensino role of Lotario, producing singing which is vibrant and richly expressive. Her aria opening act three is a highly brilliant toe-tapping number with some incredible fast passage-work. Roberta Invernizzi is superb as the female lead, producing some stunningly brilliant fast passage-work as well as highly moving moments. Her accompagnato in act two is highly dramatic, leading to an aria in which fast,furious brilliance alternates with slower poignant moments.

Marianne Beate Kielland is the secondary male lead as Adalgiso, She gives us some nicely flexible recitative and a voice which is focussed, rich toned and expressive, whilst her act three aria has a nice martial swagger to it. Marina de Liso's Gildippe has some nicely poignant moments, she makes her aria at the end of act two profoundly moving.

Jose Maria Lo Monaco plays Asprando. She has quite a big boned voice, but gives the role a nicel expressive style with some lovely passagework. As Berardo, tenor Carlo Allemano is unfortunately rather effortful with his passagework rather smudged. He sounds as if he would be far more comfortable in 19th century opera.


The comic characters Armilla and Bleso are played by Damiana Pinti and Roberto Abbondanza. Both contribute some fine, characterful singing and their comic moments are one of the delights of the opera. Their scenes also provide a nice comic counter-point to the more serious love scenes between Kielland and de Liso.

In his writing in the arias Scarlatti seems to be very fond of opposition, so that not only do we get two highly contrasting emotions but some have a stop-go character with fast sections alternating with slower ones. His orchestration is highly vivid and effective with a nice use of the extra instruments, including martial symphonies. The orchestra under Biondi's direction play with a high degree of style and an incisive crispness which is entirely admirable, whilst making the richness of the orchestration sound very winning.
I don't think that Scarlatti quite approaches Handel in the dramatic depth of his writing, but it is a close run thing. At his best, Scarlatti's approaches the depth of Handel, and an aria like Lotario's Riede quest'alma in calma from act three as sung by Basso is very fine and highly expressive. Though based on recitative and aria, there are a couple of highly expressive accompagnatos as well as both serious and comic duets plus a lovely trio for Invernizzi, Basso and Allemano at the end.

The CD booklet comes with background articles, plot synopsis and complete libretto in Italian, English and French.

On opera by Alessandro Scarlatti written for Naples and performed by forces based in Norway, directed by an Italian with an Italian cast on a French label might not seem quite a highlight of the recording catalogue, but believe me it is. There are some stunning individual moments here, but most importantly the performance adds up to a highly dramatic whole.

Alessandro Scarlatti (1660 - 1725) - Carlo Re d'Alemagna (1716) [169.19]
Lotario - Romina Basso (contralto)
Giuditta - Roberta Invernizzi (soprano)
Gildipe - Marina de Liso (mezzo-soprano)
Adalgiso - Marianne Beate Kielland (mezzo-soprano)
Berardo - Carlo Allemano (tenor)
Asprando - Jose Maria Lo Monaco (mezzo-soprano)
Armilla - Damiana Pinti (alto)
Bleso - Roberto Abbondanza (bass)
Stavanger Symphony Orchestra
Fabio Biondi
Recorded Stavanger Konserhus, Bjergsted - 30 November - 4 December 2009
agOgique AGO015  3CD's [66.56, 62.19, 40.05]


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