Laurenzi: La Finta Savia – Arias

Elena Cecchi Fedi S, Carlo Vistoli cT, Ensemble Sezione Aurea
Brilliant Classics 95685
+Ceresini, D. Ferrabosco, D. Gabrielli, Monteverdi & Uccellini

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]t is difficult to avoid unusually mixed feelings about this CD. On the one hand the bargain-priced Brilliant Classics deserves plaudits for introducing some intriguing, previously unrecorded music to the catalogue. On the other, given that most of the disc consists of mid-17th-century vocal music – a genre that crucially demands an understanding of the text – it is highly regrettable that no texts or translations are either supplied in the booklet or available on-line. Any potential value the CD has as a document is thus seriously compromised.

Little is known about Filiberto Laurenzi, who was born in Bertinoro (northern Italy) around 1620. He was a soprano in Rome, where he may have also begun his career as an opera composer. In 1640 he moved to Venice with his pupil Anna Renzi, generally considered the first diva in opera, a soprano renowned above all for an extraordinary acting ability recorded in detail by Giulio Strozzi. It was for Renzi that Laurenzi wrote the role of Aretusa in La finta savia, a pasticcio first given during Carnival 1643 at the Teatro SS Giovanni e Paolo with music principally by Laurenzi, but also including contributions by half a dozen other composers, including Tarquinio Merula and Benedetto Ferrari. Ferrari is today of course considered prime suspect as the composer of the famously lascivious final duet from L’incoronazione di Poppea, which received its first performance in that same Carnival season, the role of Ottavia having been created by Monteverdi for Anna Renzi. Given that Laurenzi is also considered the possible composer of ‘Pur ti miro’, it is included on the present disc in a good but not exceptional performance, marred by the repeat of the main section being taken so slowly that the singers find it difficult to maintain constant pitch.

But it is the arias from the lost La finta savia  (Laurenzi’s arias were published separately) that form not only the substance of the CD but also its main interest. The convoluted plot bears no relationship to the story of Arethusa and the river god Alpheus as told in Book 5 of Ovid’s Metamorphosis, being rather the story of how Aretusa (the pretended wise woman of the title), the daughter of Sardanapolis, conceals her sensual nature from her multiple suitors by becoming a pupil of the Cumaean sibyl, a conceit leading to many of the opera’s complications. The three arias recorded here not only very evidently bear witness to Renzi’s intense dramatic abilities, but also Laurenzi’s ability to write flowing cantabile lines. This is especially the case with the long strophic variations that form ‘Stolto Melanto’. All three arias are nicely sung by Elena Cecchi Fedi, who probes the text in the way we might have expected Renzi to do but with a rather thin soprano lacking the distinctive features her forebear obviously possessed. The remainder consists of three arias for two different roles, one a comic character of the kind that always feature in 17th-century Venetian opera. They are well by sung by countertenor Carlo Vistoli, who displays a winning musicality in his contributions.

In addition to the Finta savia  arias, the disc includes three other arias by Laurenzi from a collection published in Venice in 1641, and several instrumental pieces, including arrangements for keyboard of madrigals by Ceresini and Domenico Ferrabosco very well played by Filippo Pantieri on a fine copy of a 17th-century Neapolitan harpsichord. The programme is indeed fascinating throughout. The recording, made in a large salon, is over-resonant.

Brian Robins

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