The Festival della Valle d'Itria often presents first performances in modern times of praiseworthy operas that had fallen out of the repertoire for some reason. This year they have revived La Grotta di Trofonio by Giovanni Paisiello, as part of the celebrations for the 150th anniversary of his death, in co-production with Teatro San Carlo in Naples.

With this representation, the Festival, as always, under the artistic direction of Alberto Triola and the musical director Fabio Luisi, made an important contribution to the knowledge of a major composer of European opera. The Neapolitan school of the eighteenth century was one very fertile for composers, who released serious operas from the boundaries of a style which was fossilised in the division between aria and recitative, and brought also new life into the comic genre.

This La Grotta di Trofonio was a rehash, after a few months, of Salieri’s work of the same name, staged at the Burgtheater in Vienna in October 1785. The subject is drawn by Greek mythology, like two other operas by Paisiello, Antigona and Il Socrate immaginario. It is a satire of human credulity that blind faith in people with alleged magical powers. In Paisiello the story takes on a Mediterranean flavour and a comic flair: the opera was a real surprise, pleasant and fun, with a well-curated production.

The plot deals with Piastrone who wants his two daughters, Dori and Eufelia to get married to Gasperone and Artemidoro. The two pairs have contrasting personalities: Dori and Gasperone are extroverted and enthusiastic, Eufelia and Artemidoro are introverted and reserved. Trofonio, a wizard and a philosopher, invites them to his magic cave where personalities are reversed, thus creating, in their love affairs, paradoxical situations. Among escapes and returns, eventually everything is sorted out and there is a happy ending: everyone finds their lucky destiny, no one remains alone.

The cave is a clear a metaphor for change and rebirth, as are the great books arranged on stage, which also functions to define the space and to create a physical connection with our cultural background; every now and then, Greek philosophers and modern thinkers are alluded to in the libretto.

The music, smooth and pleasant, accompanies with nimbleness the adventures of the protagonists. The score is a stream of music, full of quotes, well-orchestrated and conducted at frantic pace. The staging directed by Alfonso Antoniozzi was self-confident and full of verve, brought to the audience with tuneful and bright modes. Antoniozzi highlighted the rhythm and fun, also giving value to the refined lyrical moments and the wonderful concertato at the end of the first act.

The male and female characters who revolve around Trofonio and Gasperone were all clearly defined in their characteristics, in the relationship with the orchestra. The cast was well assorted, with a special mention for Domenico Colaianni (Gasperone), Daniela Mazzucato (Madama Bartolina); a special mention for bass Roberto Scandiuzzi, who was up the challenge with a superb rendition of Trofonio.

The other roles were well sung, too: particularly noticeable was Benedetta Mazzuccato as Dori, Caterina Di Tonno as Rubinetta, Giorgio Canduro as Don Piastrone  and Angela Nisi as Eufelia.

The International Orchestra of Italy was conducted with accuracy by Giuseppe Grazioli . The scene was effectively drawn by Dario Gessati the costumes designed by Gianluca Falaschi in a more modern fashion than the original libretto.