Caccini: La liberazione di Ruggiero dall’ isola di Alcina

[Elena Biscuola Alcina, Mauro Borgioni Ruggiero, Gabriella Martellacci Melissa, Francesca Lombardi Mazzulli Sirene/Una Damigella, Emmanuela Galli La Nunzia Oreste/La dama disincantata, Raffaele Giordani Nettuno/Un Pastore/Una Pianta incantata, Yiannis Vassilakis Fiume Vistola/Astolfo,] Allabastrina, La Pifarescha, Elena Sartori
79:10
Glossa GCD 923902

Before I write my review of the recording, a disclaimer: the edition used in the performance is my own. It never ceases to amaze me that working on a piece of music for several years (as I have with revisions and corrections of the score of Caccini’s work, after performances and workshops have cast new light on it), no matter how many times one listens to it in Sibelius, and no matter how good the sound of digitally sampled instruments has become (even the wordless “singers” are quite convincing), there is no way a computer can ever compensate for human performance. Starting with the different colours instruments and voices can produce at the whim of the performers, obviously. So, hearing this short opera for the very first time has been an utter revelation. This is a lavish co-production between two ensembles with violins, recorders, viols, cornetti, sackbuts, theorboes, “arciviolata lyra” (as the score requires), harpsichord and organ; sometimes the score is very specific in its demands, while at others unlabelled instrumental staves leave the choice of colours to the musicians themselves. Elena Sartori has made some judicious choices (including allocating two voice parts to recorders in a coro di damigelle), and similarly shrewd alterations to the running order, as well as supplying music by other composers to accompany the balli referred to in the source. The singing – solo and ensemble – is excellent throughout with some characterful renditions of the parts, which help the listener to follow the action. Despite a relatively large number of continuo players, there is none of the kaleidoscopic approach which has dogged many a HIP production of late; each section (and often sequence of sections) maintains the same soundscape. They also relish Caccini’s occasional harmonic boldness, without it becoming the centre of attention. Ultimately this is a very fine performance (and recording) of a work that really does deserve to be more widely known.

Brian Clark