L'Angelica, also called Orlando, is a masterpiece of Neapolitan style. This Serenata in two parts, or Componimento drammatico for six voices, made its debut in Naples in 1720, composed by Nicola Antonio Porpora for the birthday of Empress Elisabeth-Christine (the wife of Charles VI). It was the first time that Porpora collaborated with the poet Pietro Metastasio, who based his libretto on poems by Ariosto and Boiardo.

Teresa Iervolino (Orlando)
© Clarissa Lapolla

The throes of a love triangle that culminate in a scene of madness are well served by the sensual, tender and virtuoso music. Prolific in his lifetime and successful throughout Europe – he was Handel's rival in London and Haydn's mentor, as well as one of the most important protagonists of the Neapolitan School of Music – Porpora certainly does not deserve the relative oblivion into which he has fallen. This work marked not only the beginning of Metastasio's career but also the debut of another operatic legend: Carlo Broschi, best known as Farinelli, who was also Porpora's pupil.

In this staging at Marina Franca's Festival della Valle d'Itria, director Gianluca Falaschi failed to give either lightness or depth to the story, even if some moments were pleasant. The scene was occupied by a long table with some panels, with characters and mimes, dressed and acting with clear references to gender issues, going back and forth without apparent sense and purpose. One could think that the director's sole concern was to represent his own superficial idea of Baroque style, wherein all oddities and exaggerations are allowed.

Ekaterina Bakanova (Angelica) and Teresa Iervolino (Orlando)
© Clarissa Lapolla

From the musical point of view, though, the performance was much more gratifying. The score alternates lyrical arias with dramatically expressive recitatives. There are several beautiful passages: Orlando's opening lament, with magnificent interlacing of strings and flutes (“Ombre amene”); the splendid recitativo accompagnato by Medoro ("Zeffiro lusinghiero"); and Angelica's farewell to the forest are among them. Cheerful and voluptuous music flows through Angelica and Medoro's duet.

Conductor Federico Maria Sardelli, a Baroque specialist, offered a lively and refined reading of the tense score. He successfully expressed the sparkling eagerness and fantasy of Porporas’s music. Under his direction, the small orchestra, La Lira di Orfeo, was always in search of particular colours and dynamics. The arias with obbligato accompaniment were especially worthy of praise.

Ekaterina Bakanova (Angelica)
© Clarissa Lapolla

For their part, the singers were all excellent. Paola Valentina Molinari beautifully sang Medoro's arias, while Ekaterina Bakanova (Angelica) was striking for her expressiveness and coloratura capabilities. Teresa Iervolino, the evening's prima donna, was a perfect Orlando, poetic and tormented, with a rich texture, always self-assured and clear.