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Landi, Stefano - Il Sant' Alessio [2 DVDs]
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Wenn es um versteckte Schätze der barocken Opernliteratur geht, ist William Christie der Mann der Stunde. Ein ganz besonderes Juwel hatte er vor einigen Jahre auf CD für das Erato-Label eingespielt. Die Oper "Il Sant' Alessio" von Stefano Landi - eine prachtvolle römische Heiligenlegende aus dem Jahre 1632. Im Oktober 2007 erstand das Werk in Caen und Paris in der Schönheit einer Bühnenproduktion auf (bislang erst der zweiten seit der Everding/Ponnelle-Inszenierung der Salzburger Festspiele 1977). Bei der Produktion von Benjamin Lazar beachtete Christie die historischen Vorgaben und besetzte ausschließlich Männer, darunter allein acht Countertenöre. So zeigt sich Landis Oper "Il Sant' Alessio" auch als Kaleidoskop des Counter-Gesangs in all seinen Facetten.
So unbekannt die Oper ist, so bedeutend ist sie in historischer Hinsicht: Sie ist eines der frühesten Werke dieser Gattung über die Geschichte eines Heiligen. Zum ersten Mal dreht sich ein Libretto nicht um mythologische Figuren, sondern lotet die Psychologie einer historischen Figur aus. Sant' Alessio, der heilige Alexius, wendet sich von seiner Familie ab, um im Heiligen Land religiöse Erfüllung zu finden. Jahre später kehrt er als Bettler zurück, gibt sich aber trotz Versuchungen eines Dämons nicht zu erkennen. Die Bühnenproduktion vereint etliche Countertenöre, die es zu Starruhm gebracht haben, u. a. Philippe Jaroussky und Max Emanuel Cencic.
Zum ersten Mal ist hier zu erleben, wie unterschiedlich diese spezielle Art des Gesangs wirken und die Psychologie der Figuren charakterisieren kann.
Orchestra and Choir: Les Arts Florissants
Children Choir: La Maitrise de Caen
Sant' Alessio - Philippe Jaroussky
Sposa - Max Emanuel Cencic
Eufemiano - Alain Buet
Madre - Xavier Sabata
Curtio - Damien Guillon
Nuntio - Pascal Bertin
Martio - José Lemos
Demonio - Luigi De Donato
Nutrice - Jean-Paul Bonnevalle
Religione, Roma - Terry Wey
Adrasto - Ryland Angel
Uno del choro - Ludovic Provost
Angelo - Benjamin Hiraux, Pierre-Alain Mercier
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Doch leider: Spätestens nach einer guten halben Stunde ermüdet man sichtlich und nach der ersten zweistündigen DVD kann man den spröden, meist nur continuobegleiteten Monodie-Singsang, der selten durch stereotype kleine Arien im wiegendem Dreiertakt unterbrochen wird, gepaart mit den permanent inbrünstig zum Himmel erhobenen Augen und Armen nicht mehr ertragen, was nicht an den Interpreten liegt, die sich alle erdenkliche Mühe geben stil- und ausdrucksvoll zu singen. Nein, es liegt zuerst an der mangelhaften Qualität der Musik! Landi war eben leider kein Monteverdi oder Cavalli. Dazu kommt noch das ermüdende immergleiche Halbdunkel der Kerzenbeleuchtung.
Es wird schnell klar, dass diese rein museale Wiederbelebung historischer Opernpraxis kein Weg sein kann. Nur die Beimischung intelligenten modernen Regietheaters und seiner technischen Möglichkeiten sichert Werken wie diesem das Überleben auf der heutigen Bühne. Unerreichte Musterbeispiele sind hierbei Ponelles legendäre Monteverdi-Inszenierungen aus Zürich.
Jedem Barockliebhaber sei die DVD jedoch auf jeden Fall empfohlen, man kann ja einzelne Tracks anwählen und so besonders die seelenvollen großen Soloszenen von Jaroussky und Cencic genießen, die in einer (gottseidank!) kastratenlosen Zeit einen bemerkenswerten Eindruck der früheren Faszination für männliche Sopranstimmen vermitteln.
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(By mischance due to one of the discs being without a label in my set, I watched most of the third of the three part opera before discovering my error and starting at the beginning...........frankly, it helped rather than hindering my enjoyment in the piece........particularly when I read, before going to disc one, that all the performers were male. What a good job these guys (and the makeup people) did.
That's basically the story, from the Legenda Aurea, and the plot of Stefano Landi's dramatized oratorio. The plot would have been completely familiar to everyone who heard the oratorio, since Alexis was a widely venerated saint. For people of this awkward 21st Century, the sanctity of Alexis's behavior isn't so easily credited. In the booklet accompanying this DVD, Dominique Fernandez writes: "...it seems incredible that someone who comes across as the most self-centered, misogynistic and sadistic of holy men should have been canonize... Did he not deceive his wife by offering her a happiness that he had already decided to deny her? ... Why wasn't SHE canonized for her self-abnegation and sacrifice? And what about Alexis's mother? She too was sacrificed for the sake of someone who doomed an entire family to despair in order to seek salvation through humility and chastity." These questions are not evaded in the libretto of Landi's drama. Much of the music is devoted to the lamentations of the abandoned family members, and all three victims of Alexis's penitence chide his corpse for such cruelty, yet the message of the oratorio is clearly that Alexis's actions were acceptable to God. In the end, Alexis is seen in the company of angels, ascending to heaven.
The libretto was no ordinary hack work. It was written with theological and political acuity by Giulio Rospigliosi, later to be Pope Clement. It's loaded with messages, not only about the nature of sanctity but also about the unique holiness of the City of Rome. Both the libretto and the musical score were published and disseminated widely; numerous copies have survived, making the authentic production of this "opera" relatively achievable. The score even includes precise instrumentation, and the libretto includes stage directions. First-hand descriptions of the performances, by people of the audience, have survived as well.
Although the instruments are specified in the score, precise parts for them are not. Only the chords of the continuo are written out in detail; all the instrumentalists would have been expected to improvise according to well-known rules and patterns. That is, astonishingly, what Les Arts Florissants does so artfully in this recording; every ornamental flourish you hear has been improvised by the individual musician.
Mr. Fernandez in the notes, and William Christie in the video interview that comes as an interesting bonus on DVD disk 2, propose a startling hypothesis: the Baroque in art, architecture, and music was a deliberate response to Lutheranism and Calvinism, orchestrated by the Jesuit Order and particularly by Maffeo Barberini (Pope Urban VIII) and his artistic henchman Gian Lorenzo Bernini. The modus operandi was to seek the opposite pole from the puritanical austerity and individualism of Protestantism by saturating the public sphere of life with opulence and drama, to seduce the consciences of catholics through their senses. Anyone who has toured the Bernini buildings and fountains of Rome might find this "conspiracy' rather credible. I'm predisposed to think the "stage-managed Birth of the Baroque" is not the whole story, but it's an awfully good story. And how ironic, how very odd, it is that one of the outstanding works of this Counter-Reformation extravagance should have been an opera about Saint Alexis, the epitome of the denial of pomp and pleasure!
Landi's Il Sant'Alessio was commissioned by Urban VIII and performed in 1632, with maximum opulence, in the Barberini palace in Rome, a building designed by Bernini. Secular opera was prohibited in the Papal States, though thriving elsewhere in Italy, and no women were allowed to sing or act on stage in Rome, neither in palaces nor especially in churches. Thus was born the special Roman genre of operatic oratorios (orare is Latin for 'pray') using religious texts and performed 'at the altar.' Since women were excluded, the roles of women were sung by boys and especially by "castrati"... and how peculiar is it that castrati were of such special utility to the Catholic Church well until the end of the 19th Century! In Landi's opera, only the roles of the father and the devil are written for bass voices. Alexis, his wife, mother, nurse, neighbor, and the two comic servants are all role originally sung by castrati.
William Christie has conscientiously attempted to recreate Il San'Alessio with maximum historical authenticity. Above all, there are no women in this production. Look closely at the dancers! They are all men. Modern opera companies have a severe shortage of castrati (and I suspect some impresarios regret it), so Christie has assembled a cast of six extremely skillful "falsettists" - countertenors - and he is certain, he says, that their artistry has to be as fine as that of the castrati, something that has only been possible in the last twenty years of the Early Music revival. The role of Alessio is sung by Philippe Jaroussky, whose soprano voice is as rich and flexible as that of any diva singing today. Musically, this is a sublime performance. It's hard to imagine a better. The choir of boys - La Maitrise de Caen - sound as boyishly angelic as they look. One boy in particular must have been reincarnated from a painting by Raffaelo, with his adorable curls and cherubic beauty.
Get ready for that, my friends! There is an affect of androgeny and gender-ambiguity about this production that may make some modern viewers edgy. Is it the inevitable quality of the original or is it something that appeals to these wonderful performers personally? Once again, there's an irony perhaps in this subtle portrayal of a saint who lived in a closet for seventeen years.
Stage director Benjamin Lazar must have spent hours studying Caravaggio and other mannerist painters in order to copy the "chiaroscuro" lighting and costume-coloring of this production, all candle-warm and woody. Likewise, the dramatic postures and gestures of the singers are lifted straight from Baroque paintings and statues. Jaroussky might easily have posed for a painting of Saint Alexis by El Greco. A modern viewer will possibly feel uneasy with such affectations for the first scene or two, but as the opera soars musically, the whole atmosphere becomes entrancing.
What sort of music did Landi write for us? The idiom is that of the operatic madrigal -- recitativo blending into aria and ritornello, with all resources devoted to making the text emotionally expressive. The obvious comparison is to the secular operas of Claudio Monteverdi, Landi's contemporary. Stefano Landi was not as great a composer as Monteverdi - not even close - but his music is powerful and subtle, and the singing and playing of Les Arts Florissants could make the Caen telephone directory sound sublime. Taken as a whole, this DVD is a complex and satisfying experience of music, stagecraft, and history all at once.
Beginning with an absolutely gorgeous Sinfonia and flowing through three powerful, entertaining thought provoking and often moving acts, I can't imagine this opera not capturing both the attention and heart of baroque music lovers and opera fans, at least some opera fans!).
I have been a fan of Philippe Jaroussky since his bursting onto the baroque scene a few years ago, yet somehow this was my first opportunity to experience him in a complete role. Sold. We're seeing a differentiation between male treble singers these days: For instance in comparing the sound of David Daniels to Jaroussky, I would think Daniels to be something akin to a "heldencountertenor" - while Jaroussky's is naturally higher lying, with a more feminine and sweeter presence to it. In this very authentic looking stylized era (and Noh) inspired production, young Mr. Jaroussky's movements, facial expressions, and voice all coalesce into a powerful, genuinely moving portrayal of Alessio. I was particularly touched by the big Act I scene "under the stairs" of his father's home. Watching Jaroussky's arm movements one can't help draw the conclusion he'd watched a lot of Kathleen Battle and Maria Callas videos for he has the business down quite effectively. Some may find it artificial but "art" is part of "artificial, and I, for one, loved it.
Musically, one needs hear only a little bit of his music to realize Landi - was a contemporary of Monteverdi. I have to wonder, therefore, was the older composer (Monteverdi) familiar with Landi's "Alessio" as the scene between Ulisse and his son Telemaco bears a strong musical and dramatic parallel to Landi's scene between Alessio and his father, Euphemianus, composed at least ten years before Ulisse.
In the aforementioned scene Alain Buet's as Euphemianus is vocally a tad on the dry side, yet through phrasing and mastery of the style brings a formidable, strong reading and characterization.
The brilliance of Landi's creation (aside from the mouthwateringly beautiful score) is his pacing of dramatic scenes. The aforementioned scene of Alessio's "revelation" - a moving, deep contemplation/epiphany of being earthbound while desirous of heavenly flight, is immediately followed by two vain dandy-ish characters of the commedia del' arte type. They deliver a bawdy, delightful ditty about the joys of sloth-like behaviour moving on to torment the poor, dour Alessio. At one point they even sing nonsense syllables in such a happy refrain that I nearly joined in.
It was fascinating to experience an all male opera that isn't Billy Budd - especially one that has the then traditional gender-bending spectacle of males singing the parts of women. While I've seen this "experiment" in Shakespearean theatre, I've never seen "serious" operatic roles done in this manner, usually falling more into the Arnalta ("Poppea") type of slapstick "I'm a big man playin' a lady" played with a rather broad (pardon the pun) humor. There is an ensemble with the ladies in Alessio's life: wife, mother and nurse that is one of the most beautiful "stand out" moments of the entire opera. I rewound and played that number, again, shaking my head at the sheer beauty,
the depth of emotion with which Landi infused this moment. Additionally, their voices fuse gloriously - with an odd matching up of virbratos which has a power all its own. .
Landi gives the chorus glorious music and Christy's "minstrels" launch into it with a sense of elation and joy. The choral music is unique here in this style of music and at one point reminded me of Peter Grimes, Turandot or Porgy and Bess, so important and integral are they to the goings on. I loved the madrigal-like aspect of some of the writing for them, the raucous circus/carnival act ending dance (beautifully sans voices) as the stage is flooded in a riotous eruption of joyous emotion.
William Christie and his band give a predictably brilliant and buoyant reading of the score, elegant when necessary and "down and dirty" in its bawdier moments. Banjamin Lazar's actual-era inspired physical production matched the musical qualities of the opera note-for-note, right down to having the set lit by candles - a very warming and welcoming touch.
How wonderful to be living in these often depressing times, and witness the rediscovery of brilliant works of art! I am ever grateful for the work Bill Christie is doing to unearth, promote and help revitalize our musical culture.
Bravo to everyone involved in this very special project and I hope it inspires more audiences, more musicians, and more good will - this DVD should prove as good a starting point as any! Bravissimo!