Stradella: La Doriclea

Emőke Baráth, Giuseppina Bridelli, Xavier Sabata, Gabriella Martellacci, Luca Cervoni, Riccardo Novaro SmScTATBar, Il Pomo d’Oro, directed by Andrea De Carlo
188:21 (3 CDs in a wallet)
Arcana A 454 (The Stradella Project vol. 5)

The excellent Baroque ensemble Pomo d’Oro under the direction of Andrea De Carlo are joined by a first-class line-up of soloists for this account of the first complete opera by Alessandro Stradella, dating probably from the 1670s while the composer was resident in Rome. At this stage in his short life, Stradella had the reputation of being able to set a libretto to music in a matter of weeks, and in the case of a lightly scored light comedy such as this, it is easy to see how such a feat was possible. Consisting of recitative alternating with simple, tuneful arias ‘con ritornello’ and duets this is the sort of music which could be composed by the yard. Having said that, Stradella’s gift for melody and texture means that he makes the most of the limited demands of this genre, and his instrumental accompaniments are charmingly tuneful, his sung melodies always lyrical and imaginative and the various roles are felicitously characterized in music. The present performance uses just solo strings and continuo, but one rarely feels that the texture is overly thin. The six excellent soloists bring passion and distinctive timbres to their various roles, with particular accolades due to Emőke Baráth’s energetic account of the eponymous heroine Doriclea, the ever-excellent Xavier Sabata as an intense Fidalbo and a smokey-voiced Gabriella Martellacci as Delfina. The programme notes speculate that this is the sort of entertainment which might have been performed outdoors in a castle garden, and with its light orchestration it is easy to see this working rather well, with characters popping in and out from behind hedging to make their contributions. I have emphasized the light-weight nature of the piece, and compared to the operas of Monteverdi it is inconsequential fare indeed, but the music is never less than pleasantly entertaining and this superb performance consistently engages the attention. I consider it unlikely that a performance of the work would have kicked off with a recitative, as suggested by the score and as the performers here choose to do – surely a piece of instrumental music by Stradella would have preceded the performance, and could easily have done so here too. I also feel that that the singers are slightly closely recorded for my taste, but otherwise the sound is excellent and the whole project is infused with musicality and dynamism.

D. James Ross