Lo Frate 'nnamorato
Belfiore, Biccirè, Adamonyté, Di Castri, Cherici, Bove; N. Alaimo, Morace, Alegret; Europa Galante, Biondi. Production: Landin. Arthaus Musik 108066 (Blu-ray) or 101652 (2 DVDs), 160 mins., subtitled
The first of Pergolesi's two full-length comedies, composed at age twenty-two in 1732, has a Neapolitan title that translates as Il Fratello Innamorato, or "The Brother in Love." The heads of two families, one from Naples and speaking the dialect, the other from Rome and more cultured, arrange three marriages uniting the families, but all three young ladies love someone else — the same someone else, the Naples family's adopted son, who loves all three in return. He turns out to be the long-lost Roman brother of two of them, so just one, unplanned wedding, his to the Neapolitan "sister" he grew up with, will take place. Along the way, the households' two saucy maids further frustrate the increasingly powerless would-be bridegrooms.
Recorded in 2011 at Teatro Pergolesi in Jesi, the composer's birthplace, this production, like others in the series encompassing Pergolesi's six operas and two extant intermezzos, sports a fine Italian period-instrument orchestra. Here it's Europa Galante — fifteen musicians, led by violinist Fabio Biondi, who do their scintillating best for Pergolesi's early score. It has a noble aria with shimmering string tremolos for Carlo, head of the Roman family; a grieving aria with falling "sighs" for Ascanio, the adopted son; a catchy siciliano for Vannella, the Roman maid; and an aria with flute obbligato for Nena, the younger Roman sister. Stravinsky used a few of the tunes in Pulcinella.
Though all the singing is at least adequate, only two in the cast of nine rise much above that level: mezzo Elena Belfiore sings incisively as Ascanio, and soprano Patrizia Biccirè uses a plush voice with agility as Nena. Stiff, labored acting abounds; only Belfiore, Jurgita Adamonyté as Nina, the older Roman sister, and Rosa Bove as Cardella, the Neapolitan maid, have stage presence. It especially hurts that the buffo roles of Marcaniello and Pietro, the Neapolitan father and son, are so dully played. The cast looks uncomfortable in Elena Cicorella's 1950s clothes.
Director/designer Willy Landin's updating per se is harmless, and his set of adjacent dwellings is credibly Neapolitan. One apartment houses a young supernumerary who becomes the nubile distraction that the opera's maids should be; Marcaniello watches her in her bedroom through facing windows during the opening sinfonia, an embarrassing start to the show. Intentionally, it seems, Landin dampens the comedy by setting much of the inaction in a dreary café with bar, where the characters drown their sorrows while rain pours down outside. So much for sunny Napoli.
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