A Great Revival
Leonardo Vinci and Pietro Metastasio's
reviewed by GIUSEPPE PENNISI
reviewed by GIUSEPPE PENNISI
On 8 January 2017, in the small (350 seat) and quite pretty Teatro Goldoni in Florence — an early nineteenth century building with orchestra seats and four rows of small boxes — a masterpiece of early eighteenth century was revived, for the first time in modern times: Didone Abbandonata by Leonardo Vinci on a libretto by Pietro Metastasio.
The opera had its debut in January 1726 in the newly built Teatro delle Dame in Rome. It had tremendous success and circulated all over Europe for a few decades. It has a major historical importance as one of the few fully developed examples of opera seria; in the early eighteenth century, the world of musical theatre was searching for something different from baroque with its vocalizing, improvisation and the inclusion of moment of coming relief in even quite tragic dramas. In addition, theatres had become mostly private, at least in Rome, Venice and other parts of Italy. There was a fierce competition for getting the best composers and singers.
Budgets did not allow for expensive machinery; rather, there was a need for sets that could be easily moved from theatre to theatre and from town to town. Opera seria met these requirements; an austere musical writing, few singers, no ballet and possibly no chorus, and easy to transport stage sets and props. Didone Abbandonata established a style and a syntax for opera seria: only six singers — three protagonists and three in less important roles, sharp distinction between recitatives, either 'dry', accompanied only by continuo or 'accompanied', viz supported by the full orchestra, and arias, a structure in three acts where the principal singers had two arias per act and the others only one, a very terse and dramatic action with often a 'happy ending', and also psychological development of the main characters.
Didone Abbandonata features all these points. In addition, the opera was much appreciated by the Austrian Emperor, who called Pietro Metastasio to his Court with the title of Poeta Cesareo ('Caesar's Poet'); from that position, the prolific writer was able to nurture opera seria all over Europe and make Italian the lingua franca of the European Courts.
I was in the audience on the opening day. After a few performances in Florence, the production will move to Pisa and maybe to international festivals.
The plot is based on the fourth book of Virgil's Aeneid. To meet opera seria requirements, an African king, also in love with Dido, is added to the customary characters of the poem. For our purpose, what matters is the music.
The conductor, Carlo Ipata, is a specialist of both baroque and opera seria and runs an ensemble in Pisa and a small festival in Barga. (A Gasparini Renaissance, 20 July 2014.) Thus, he caressed the score quite gently but emphasized the most dramatic moments. Especially good the continuo made up of a cembalist (Alessandra Artifoni), a cellist (Michele Tazzari) and a player of theorbo (Giovanni Bellini).
The stage direction (Deda Cristina Colonna), sets (Gabriele Vanzini) costumes (Monica Iacuzzo) and lighting are simple but effective.
Among the singers, there were three young but quite impressive voices: countertenor Raffaele Pé as Iarba, the African King paying suit to Dido, dramatic soprano Roberta Mameli as Dido and heroic tenor Carlo Allemano as Aeneas.
Gabriella Costa as Selene, Marta Pluda as Araspe and Giada Frasconi as Osmida were also quite good.
The audience loved it. It could very well be the start of a revival.
Copyright © 15 January 2017 Giuseppe Pennisi,