It gradually dawns on one why this briskly-moving intermezzo was
such a hit with Neapolitan audiences of the l8th century when served up
by Hasse -- one of those composers most admired by J.S.Bach -- when still
in his late 20s.
La Contadina, first seen at the Teatro San Bartolomeo in Naples
in 1728 as an entracte (in two parts) to the opera Clitarco (Cleitarchus),
by Pietro Scarlatti, has some of the brilliantly-turned humour and enticing
bizarreness of La Serva Padrona, the comic masterpiece by Pergolesi
(to whom it was later commonly misattributed). The librettist is uncertain
-- at least two candidates are mentioned in the sources -- but the sleeve
notes draw attention to the wit of Molière and the scathingly satirical
Louis Quatorze French comic tradition, to which it to some extent relates.
The soloists bear the brunt, and -- most crucially -- both Oddone (as the
impish maidservant Scintilla) and Regazzo (as the pompous, self-satisfied,
preposterous Don Tabarano) are superbly skilled, characterful dramatic performers.
His timing is splendid, though best enjoyed if you follow what he's up to
(full libretto is supplied, albeit in Harmonia Mundi's tiresome elongated
typeface). Oddone is Argentinian born, Italian based, and has performed
often with René Jacobs. Her bursts of coloratura have the odd fraying
edge, and her tone colour at its best (later she comes into her own) is
fabulously alluring. The sound as a whole -- with many audial comings and
goings -- is brilliantly handled, and the cheerful spirit of the piece never
lets up as this duo strut, fret, whinge and whimper at each other -- and
us -- by hilarious turns.
The dancy finale of part I is a classic, and the couple's recitative
exchanges in this closing scene and the first of part 2 anticipate all the
nattiest qualities of Mozart's and Rossini's Figaros. The period
instrument Ensemble Arcadia play splendidly and spiritedly for the Schola
Cantorum Basiliensis-trained Atilio Cremonesi (it sounds as if they all
trained there too; the lead violin playing is deft in the extreme). The
timing and recording of the whole thing is brilliant, and stylish to boot.
Copyright © 17 January 2001
Roderic Dunnett, Coventry, UK
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