Leonardo Leo: L'Alidoro on DVD
2008(LI) - Antonio Florio - Orchestra Barocca Cappella della Pietà dei Turchini (period instruments)
Opera House: Teatro Municipale Valli di Reggio Emilia
Filippo Morace - Giangrazio - excellent
Maria Grazia Schiavo - Faustina - excellent
Maria Ercolano (trouser role) - Luigi/Ascanio (Alidoro) - excellent
Valentina Varriale - Zeza - good+
Gianpiero Ruggeri - Meo - good
Francesca Russo Ermolli - Elisa - good-
Giuseppe de Vittorio - Don Marcello - so, so; clearly the weak link
Nino Bruno - Cicco - silent role
Leonardo Leo (1694-1744) was a Neapolitan baroque composer (actually, born in a small town - San Vito dei Normanni - that then belonged to the Kingdom of Naples) who studied music at the Conservatorio della Pietà dei Turchinni, after which the orchestra that plays in this performance is named.
Leo is relatively obscure in the world of opera, and is better known for his sacred music compositions. His claim to fame is the fact that he was the first composer of the Neapolitan school to master modern harmonic counterpoint. Still, he composed a large number of serious and comic operas (42 in total). His serious operas are said to suffer from a coldness and severity of spirit (Demofoonte, Farnace, L'Olimpiade - the latter, not to be confouded with Gallupi's version). His comic operas, on the other hand, have a reputation for a keen sense of humor, and include his most famous one, La Finta Frascatana, (a.k.a. Amor Vuol Sofferenze) as well as a pair of comic operas with libretti in Neapolitan dialect, La 'mpeca Scoperta, and the one that I'm reviewing today, L'Alidoro, which premiered in 1740 and was lost for centuries. It has been recently rediscovered during a cataloguing of art finds, in the Abbey of Montecassino during the early 21st Century. This DVD contains its first staging in modern times.
The libretto is by Gennarantonio Federico. Here is a link to it, with English translation:
The work explores a divided world in which the characters speak and sing in different languages, according to their station: Neapolitan for the servants, and Tuscan for the masters. The masters are erotically attracted to the servants, while the servants are only attracted to their own.
Delightful overture, delicately and beautifully played by the period orchestra.
Surprisingly good singing by this completely unknown, all-Italian, local cast.
Charming period costumes, but with minimalist staging with some anachronisms (iron patio furniture).
The arias and ensembles are very, very pleasant.
Oh boy, this looks very good indeed.
OK, folks: this is a WINNER!!!
It's dynamic, witty, funny (in a reserved kind of way, not funny haha, but smart funny), varied, entertaining, masterfully put together.
The multiple intrigues are quite interesting.
A rich man (Gingrazio) has a playboy good-for-nothing son (Don Marcello). He brings from Naples a suitable bride for his son (Faustina) who comes with her sister (Elisa) - apparently they are his nieces; weird, no taboo about marrying inside the family?? He's got a servant (Luigi, who for some misterious reason likes to call himself Ascanio, it's never explained - and is the Alidoro of the title role, meaning Golden Wings). The female inn keeper (Zeza) and the miller (Meo) complete the list of characters, with a silent role for the inn busboy (Cicco).
So Marcello is promised to Faustina, but loves/lusts over Zeza - who is in love with Meo and vice-versa, but neither one will confess it to the other, and Meo keeps suspecting Zeza of willing to drop him for the rich pretender - which she's not about to do, and she keeps whining about the fact that Meo doesn't see her love for him and doesn't give her any attention.
Gingrazio is unhappy because his son is not accepting the rich bride Faustina but rather has his eyes on poor girl Zeza; then he goes to the field to investigate, and falls for Zeza himself, who gets even more desperate at these two rich men, father and son, flirting with her while all she wants is the miller Meo. Meanwhile, the servant Luigi/Ascanio/Alidoro loves Faustina and vice-versa, and is hoping that playboy Marcello will get Zeza and leave Faustina for him. But Faustina's sister Elisa loves Luigi too, and aggressively pursues him, and Faustina is jealous and afraid that Luigi will fall for her sister.
Elisa feels scorned and insists that Gingrazio must fire Luigi, which he is willing to do, and does.
Things heat up. Meo openly suspects Zeza of making love to Gingrazio and under the pressure of complaining out lout about it, confesses his love for Zeza. Gingrazio calls him off on his delusional jealousy, insists that he never did such thing to poor Zeza, who runs away crying.
Faustina goes to battle for Luigi, confronting Elisa on why she wanted Luigi fired. Elisa says she could revert it all, as long as Luigi would agree with loving her.
Faustina goes to Luigi and tells him about it. He says he could fool Elisa into thinking that he loves her. Faustina declares herself very confused, says that when she is with him, she feels that she's losing him and doesn't know what to think.
Gingrazio meets Luigi and tells him he will reinstate him if he can help him. He wants Luigi to get Marcello to marry Faustina the same evening. Gingrazio will "pretend" to be in love with Zeza to chase Marcello away from Zeza and get him to marry Faustina. Gingrazio exits. Luigi says to himself he will never let this happen - in a magnificent, heroic da capo aria!
Marcello goes flirt some more with Zeza who turns him down in no equivocal terms. Still, Meo is jealous and continues to think that she is willing to give herself to one of the two rich gentlemen.
Marcello tries again and Zeza hits him and breaks his shoulder. Now Meo starts to believe that she is not as fickle as he thought. Gingrazio comes in and tries to earn Zeza's love, who rejects him just as strongly, threatening with an iron spike (this is witnessed by Meo who is looking at the scene from behind stuff). She exits.
Gingrazio asks Luigi to get Zeza to comply with his demands. He does the messenger between the two of them, which enrages Meo, who denounces what Luigi is doing and engages in a sword fight with him. People calm them down, get in between, Meo leaves, but Marcello continues the sword fight against Luigi (why??? OK, folks, this is opera).
Zeza goes out looking for Meo and finds him. He says that he saw how she rejected both rich gentlemen and how he is sorry of having doubted her, and they declare their love for each other; embrace. Lovely love scene, lovely music. The silent page dresses like a priest and seems to bless their love.
Meanwhile Luigi has been injured during the sword fight. When Gingrazio goes to tend to his shoulder wound (just a scratch) he sees a birth mark - two golden wings on his shoulder - and realizes that Luigi is his long lost son Alidoro. He and his late wife had lost him while vacationing in a beach town near Genoa. He was found by a Genoese gentleman and given the name Luigi, but he is really Alidoro.
Marcello and Alidoro are introduced to the fact that they are brothers, and stop their fight. Alidoro declares his love for Faustina, and Gingrazio blesses their love and agrees that they should marry. Meo and Zeza say that they're getting married too.
Gingrazio tells Marcello that he should marry Elisa. Both Elisa and Marcello, realizing that they had lost plan A, decide that plan B (getting married to each other) is a good idea. The three couples and the benevolent father rejoice. Curtain.
Pretty good, exciting libretto.
Excellent music, always lively and enticing, with good pace.
On top of it, the production is beautifully staged with tasteful choices, and exquisitely sung, conducted, and played.
A+, highly recommended. Buy it! Buy it! Buy it!
One wonders what else is out there lost in history. This is a true operatic masterpiece. Now I look forward to other works by Leonardo Leo. It is interesting - how can fame be so random? Why is Leonardo Leo so obscure, when this opera, not even considered to be his best, is as good as many of the top operas in the repertory that have endured the test of time? Why was it forgotten??? Maybe it is a question of being on the right place at the right time, and Leonardo Leo seems to have lost the train and didn't make it.
But maybe now, 250 years later, we'll give him his due.
Bravo, Leonardo Leo, as belated as this is.