Alessandro Scarlatti is justly famed for his contributions to Read more opera seria and cantata, and indeed it may even be said that he was one of the main progenitors of the Neapolitan style of the early 18th century. In Naples and earlier in Rome he was obligated to write a considerable amount of sacred music, much of it for smaller settings that would be useful in the local churches. Since his music is now becoming more common on disc, it is good to have this recording of a set of four pieces—a gradual, a Marian antiphon, a motet, and a Psalm—all of which reflect rather different approaches to each portion of the liturgy and yet contain a certain commonality in form and structure. Interspersed within these, and no doubt both to provide a transition between then and to fill out the disc, are three organ works, two of which are of substantial length. Given that Scarlatti’s pieces for this instrument are not common, their appearance here is a real treat.
The two trouser roles are marvellously sung and believable! Kasarova and Garanca may not look butch but one won't forget they're playing male characters. And the romantic scenes are tastefully done, and don't look gratuitous (gotta show how Vitellia controls Sesto, after all). There is no nudity in it (Vitellia changes her clothes a lot on stage,but she is always covered).
Composed in 1778, J.C. Bach's La Clemenza di Scipione is a nice, direct, fat-free work. The arias tend to be short (not one of them is a da capo), the recitatives are to the point and likewise brief, and the action moves swiftly. Roman Scipio (tenor) has taken Cartagena and Spanish soprano princess Arsinda (and her soprano pal, Idalba) prisoner. Male soprano, fellow non-Roman Lucieo, is betrothed to Arsinda, while the Roman general Marzio (tenor) is in love with Idalba and vice-versa. The whole plot revolves around the heroic Lucieo's attempts to rescue Arsinda, et al., his being taken prisoner, and his being threatened by death if he refuses to pledge allegiance to Rome. He never does give in, but Scipio does–hence the clemency–and Scipio gives everyone their freedom once he realizes how impressive a gal Arsinda is. Everyone swears loyalty to Rome. Hooray! There's plenty of room for grief arias, anger arias, revenge arias, why-is-my-life-so-dreadful arias, and if-only-I-could-end-your(-my)-suffering arias, in many tempos.
The oratorio as a musical form emerged toward the end of the seventeenth century as a kind of "spiritual exercise" encouraged by the Congregazione dell'Oratorio in Rome. The performances took place in oratories (prayer halls) constructed above church naves and were intended to be attractive but edifying entertainments. Then as later, oratorios generally reflected the popular forms and styles of secular music – and in late Renaissance and Baroque Italy, this meant opera, though based on religious rather than mythological and heroic themes. The most prolific composer in this genre was Antonio Caldara (c1670-1736); New Grove lists 43 oratorios (in addition to many operas) and there are probably more that have been lost, written for patrons in his native Venice, Rome, Florence, Mantua, and Vienna.