> Giovanni Battista Pergolesi [PQ]: Classical CD Reviews- Aug 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Giovanni Battista PERGOLESI (1710-36)
Livietta e Tracollo

Nancy Argenta (soprano) Livietta
Werner van Mechelen (bass) Tracollo
La Serva Padrona

Patricia Biccire (soprano) Serpina
Donato di Stefano (bass) Uberto
La Petite Bande, Sigiswald Kuijken (conductor)
Ferrucio Soleri (director)
Dirk Gryspeirt (director for video)
Recorded live at the Luna Theatre, Brussels, 1986
TDK DV-LTSP [95 minutes]


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Sigiswald Kuijken (better known in the UK as a violinist) and a stooge, both camply seated on a bench on stage, hold a ten-minute conversation about these two works which thoroughly fulfils its role as an introduction to them. Kuijken talks incisively about the rise of the intermezzo genre, of which these are two examples, written so each of their 20 minute acts could be staged between the three acts of a much longer opera seria. He values the roughness and improvised nature of their writing: ‘they are popular, less exact, more wild. You don’t have to look for cheap psychology – they are a very long way from Freud.’

These qualities come across admirably in the musical and dramatic values of the performances – most strongly of all in Livietta e Tracollo, which is, as Kuijken remarks, far more experimental than its companion. The distinction between recitative and aria is far more blurred and the ‘orchestral’ parts (consisting of strings and continuo) chug along less imaginatively, but with flashes of harmonic unconventionality that spice the formal language with originality. These could be reasons why it has been neglected in favour of La Serva Padrona, and also why I prefer it to its better-known companion.

Both operas plot a bossy young woman against a powerful but silly older man: guess who wins in the end? It doesn’t spoil the rudimentary story line to reveal that all ends happily ever after, with the man happily if resignedly consigned to his fate as spouse of the other. Soleri’s productions take place against an attractive backdrop, outdoors for Livietta, in doors for Padrona, and use a minimum of props, which include secondary characters whose function is not to sing but to move the action along and provide a butt for gentle humour.

The vocal lines are the most complex part of these works, demanding considerable agility and a command of long phrases. Argenta and van Mechelen trump the other two, making Livietta again the more appealing work, but I suspect that the larger voices of Biccire and di Donato are in a comparatively confined space – the Luna Theatre seems to have hardly any resonance – and the microphones boom and compress the sound to their detriment. All sing with easy accuracy and fine intonation and do not make use of the breathy, white tone heard too frequently in this repertoire. Kuijken’s stricture of ‘text first – you have to appreciate the pleasure of the language, to make the music light enough to fly’ is observed by all four singers, if not by the subtitler, who adds an extra layer of comedy. Poor Kuijken is made to say at one point ‘I think, history is wrong quite rare – these serious operas were quite academically’ and the works themselves are full of howlers, though anyone with basic Italian will find no problem in following without the subtitles, such is the clarity of their diction.

It’s not as easy as it looks to get such simple pieces so right, but Kuijken and Soleri have the measure of this idiom, and I recommend the disc.

Peter Quantrill

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