Thursday 24 July 2014

Rare charm: Scarlatti's Rosinda ed Emireno

Scarlatti - Rosinda ed Emireno - Pan Classics
Scarlatti Rosinda ed Emireno; Alice Borciani, Alex Potter, Musica Fiorita, Daniela Dolci; Pan Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 15 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Arias and duets from a rarely heard Scarlatti opera once attributed to his rival, Perti

Alessandro Scarlatti seems to have written around 60 operas, but few of them are in the record catalogue. Daniela Dolci and Musica Fiorita have now given us the chance to listen to extracts from one more, Rosinda et Emireno which Scarlatti wrote in 1697. The disc, on Pan Classics, gives us a selection of arias from the opera concentrating on two of the leading characters, Rosinda (played by counter-tenor Alex Potter) and Emireno (played by soprano Alice Borciani). The group punctuates the selections from Scarlatti's opera with sonatas by one of Scarletti's older contemporaries Giovanni Legrenzi.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Rosinda et Emireno is its scoring. In addition to his usual body of strings and continuo, Scarlatti uses a cornett which in 1697 was very much an old-fashioned sort of instrument. We don't know why he favoured this scoring, but it does give the opera a very distinct sound world.

The plot is the usual opera seria one, set in Egypt with long lost brothers, people in disguise and frustrated lovers. All the arias on the disc are for the two leading roles, Rosinda and Emireno, who were both originally played by female sopranos. Italian opera seria was often gender-blind; on this disc, a female soprano plays the male role of Emireno, whilst a counter-tenor plays the female role of Rosinda.

Scarlatti's arias are generally short and frequently seem to have a dance rhythm underlying them. Whatever the emotions of the characters, Scarlatti's response is personable and highly appealing. There is a simplicity and melodiousness to his writing which makes for very attractive listening. The involvement of the cornett brings an interesting, rather gravely melancholy feel to the sound world. Much of the writing for cornett seems high, and it participates on a number of arias. Not only the graver numbers such as Non pianger solo dolce usignuolo, but in the livelier ones such ias Va scherzando in which the voice effectively has a duet with the cornett with each vying with the other.

Alice Borciani has a slim, bright lyric voice with a technique which copes admirably with the complexities of the vocal lines. Similarly Alex Potter impresses with his sweet, soft grained counter-tenor. We get to hear them together in two duets as well as their solo numbers. The first a perky number with a dancing violin obliggato, the second a more melancholy one where each has a solo moment before concluding the duet in dialogue.

The sonatas by Legrenzi (published in Venice in 1633) are attractively performed and break up the texture of the CD in just the right way.

The Swiss group Musica Fiorita was founded 20 years ago by Daniela Dolci. On this disc Dolci directs from the harpsichord with Bork-Fithjof Smith (cornett), Katharina Heutjer and Miki Takahashi (violin) Jonathan Pesek (cello), Brigitte Gasser (viola da gamba and lirone), Juan Sebastian Lima (theorbo).

For those interested in exploring further, counter tenor Alex Potter is also the soloist on the recent EUBO Handel disc (see my review). And I reviewed Fabio Biondi and Stavanger Symphony Orchestra's complete recording of Scarlatti's opera Carlo, Re d'Alemagna earlier this year.

Scarlatti's opera has a slightly curious history. It was long attributed to Giacomo Perti, but when Musica Fiorita performed on of the arias from the opera a Perti scholar realised that the opera was in fact by Scarlatti. It would be interesting to hear the whole opera, there are comic elements involved too. But this disc gives us a fine window onto Scarlatti's Rosinda ed Emireno in attractive performances.

Alessandro Scarlatti (1660 - 1725) - Rosinda et Emireno (Excerpts) (1697)
Giacomo Perti (1661 - 1756) - Va scherzando (Penelope la Casta) (1696)
Giovanni Legrenzi (1626 - 1690) - Sonata La Rosetta
Giovanni Legrenzi (1626 - 1690) - Sonata La Spilimerga
Giovanni Legrenzi (1626 - 1690) - Sonata La Mosta
Giovanni Legrenzi (1626 - 1690) - Sonata La Pia
Emireno - Alice Borciani (soprano)
Rosinda - Alex Potter (counter-tenor)
Musica Fiorita  - Bork-Fithjof Smith (cornett), Katharina Heutjer and Miki Takahashi (violin) Jonathan Pesek (cello), Brigitte Gasser (viola da gamba and lirone), Juan Sebastian Lima (theorbo)
Daniela Dolci (harpsichord and direction)
Recorded 3-7 June 2012, Adullam chapel, Basel, Switzerland
PAN CLASSICS PC 10303 1CD [80.44]
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