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Domenico MAZZOCCHI(1592 - 1665) La Catena d'Adone, Favola boschereccia
Laciana Mancini (Falsirena), Merel Elisheva Kriegsman (Venere, Ninfa),
Catherine Lybaert (Amore, Ninfa), Marie de Roy (Idonia, Ninfa) (soprano),
Reinoud Van Mechelen (Adone), Dávid Szigetvári (Apollo,
Pastore) (tenor), Olivier Berten (Oraspe, Pastore), Nicolas Achten
(Arsete, Plutone, Pastore) (baritone)
Scherzi Musicali/Nicolas Achten
rec. 13-15, 18-21 October 2010, Trifolion (Centre Culturel, Touristique
et de Congrès), Echternach, Luxembourg. DDD
ALPHA 184 [57:56 + 74:13]
Claudio Monteverdi's L'Orfeo is generally considered
the first real opera in music history. It was the first in what
would become a long and rich tradition which is still alive.
It was not long before operas were being performed in various
towns and courts across Italy. Rome wasn't one of them, though.
Here the first opera was performed as late as 1626. It was composed
by Domenico Mazzocchi, and entitled La Catena d'Adone
(The chain of Adonis). The story is about the enchantress Falsirena
who has fallen in love with Adonis. When he resists her approaches
she binds him with an invisible magic chain. She then finds
out that he is in love with Venus. She decides to trick him
by taking on the appearance of Venus. She fails when Venus herself
turns up and sets Adonis free. Venus orders her son Cupid (Amore)
to bind Falsirena with the chain she had used for Adonis.
It was largely due to the negative attitude of the ecclesiastical
authorities that the opera genre was only slowly embraced. Sometimes
the honour of being the first opera is given to La Rappresentazione
di Anima, et di Corpo by Emilio de' Cavalieri which was
performed in Rome in 1600. This piece was a morality play: man
is tempted to look for happiness in earthly things, but characters
around him try to make him realise that true happiness can only
be found in eternal life. Interestingly, La Catena d'Adone
links up with this moral tenor of De' Cavalieri's 'opera'. It
is an allegory: the moral message is not included in the opera
itself - as in La Rappresentazione - but is explained
in an addition to the score. Falsirena is a symbol for the human
soul whose reason can easily be overcome by sense. Adonis symbolises
man who, far from God, makes many mistakes. Only when God intervenes
does the human soul return to the path of celestial pleasures.
The moral tenor can be explained from the fact that it was commissioned
by Giovanni Giorgio Aldobrandini, the brother of Cardinal Ippolito
Aldrobrandini, whose service Mazzocchi had entered, probably
in 1621. There are reasons to believe, though, that the Cardinal
himself was the man who was really responsible for the commission.
At the time Mazzocchi was a highly respected composer. He was
born in Civita Castellana where he studied at the seminary.
He took lower orders in 1606 and was ordained priest in 1619.
In 1614 he had settled in Rome where he obtained the right of
citizenship. At the same time his brother Virgilio worked in
Rome as a composer of sacred and secular vocal music. In several
ways their careers were intertwined.
La Catena d'Adone is in a prologue and five acts. Every
act ends with a chorus of nymphs and shepherds. There are no
instrumental movements; in this performance the prologue and
acts 2 to 5 begin with a Sinfonia by Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger,
one of the most celebrated theorbo players of that time in Rome.
The Sinfonias are taken from his only collection of instrumental
music for other instruments than his own, the Libro I di
sinfonie a 4 of 1615. The only instrumental passages in
the opera itself are some ritornelli. A variety of basso continuo
instruments has been brought together and these are allocated
to the various protagonists according to their character. Apart
from common instruments like the theorbo, the archlute, the
harp, harpsichord and organ a brass-strung harpsichord is used
as well as a spinettina and tiorbino, the latter
being higher-pitched variants of the better-known spinet and
theorbo respectively. The lirone was also often used at the
time, which is especially suited for laments and passages of
The opera almost exclusively consists of recitatives, and reflects
the ideal of recitar cantando, speechlike singing. There
are some passages of a more lyrical character, though, pointing
in the direction of what was to become the aria. It is not only
the declamatory character of the music which allows the protagonists
to express their feelings, Mazzocchi also makes use of daring
harmony, uncommon intervals and chromaticism to make the various
affetti come across.
Among the dramatic highlights is the confrontation between Falsirena
and Adonis in Act 3. In Act 4 it is the moment when the enchantress
vividly expresses her rage when she finds out that Venus is
the lover of Adonis. Act 5 begins with a moment of great expression,
when Adonis sings a lament about his fate: under the spell of
Falsirena and far away from his lover Venus. These moments come
off brilliantly in the interpretations of the two main singers.
Luciana Mancini gives an outstanding rendition of the role of
Falsirena. Every aspect of the text is brought out, and she
completely masters the art of recitar cantando. Reinoud
Van Mechelen is excellent in his portrayal of Adonis, and the
performance of the lament at the beginning of Act 5 is very
moving. The other singers are no less impressive, especially
Marie de Roy in the important role of Idonia and Olivier Berten
as Oraspe. Nicolas Achten sings Arsete well, but in the small
role of Pluto I would have preferred a real bass instead of
Achten's light baritone. The playing of the instrumentalists
is of the highest order, and they eloquently underline the emotional
and dramatic keypoints in the opera.
The booklets of this label always look nice. This one is a little
sloppy: Arsete is printed as Areste in the track-list and on
the back of the case. There are several printing errors, and
the English translation of Achten's (excellent) liner-notes
should have been edited more carefully. The booklet includes
French and English translations of the libretto, but unfortunately
these are not fully synchronized. As a result often the Italian
text is at the top of one page and the English translation at
the bottom. That makes it hard to follow the original and the
translation simultaneously, which is especially important to
an understanding of the connection between text and music. This
layout is not very user-friendly.
That said, this is a very important production. It is important
from a historical perspective as it brings to us the first opera
ever performed in Rome. Musically it is impressive because of
the high quality of Mazzocchi's music which testifies to his
stature as one of the most important composers of his time.
Last but not least the standard of the performances is very
high, without any real weak moments. If you like 17th-century
operas, don't miss this one. It will be a jewel in your collection.
Johan van Veen
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