This was not quite a night at the opera, but a very entertaining operatic night at the atmospheric Orangerieschloss (mid-19th century) in Potsdam. It comprised a short but charming serenata by Alessandro Scarlatti, an early instrumental work by Handel and the one act opera Polifemo, an early (1702) work by Bononcini. The latter is not entirely unknown, a recording having been made in 1944 in Vienna, sung in German, and in more recent times, about 15 years ago there was a performance in Utrecht. This was however a very integrated Baroque production (also the Scarlatti), with not just historical instruments but also Baroque costuming and Baroque Gest by the singers – all directed by Baroque performance expert Margit Legler, responsible for the successful Silla at Göttingen two years ago, with costumes and scenery by Johannes Ritter. Every aspect worked and the singing was little short of magnificent.

Roberta Invernizzi (Urania), Roberta Mameli (Sole), and Helena Rasker (Clio) © Stefan Gloede | Musikfestspiele Potsdam Sanssouci
Roberta Invernizzi (Urania), Roberta Mameli (Sole), and Helena Rasker (Clio)
© Stefan Gloede | Musikfestspiele Potsdam Sanssouci

Scarlatti’s Le Muse Urania e Clio lodano le bellezze di Filli (1706) is a serenata for three voices, the said muses and Sole, the sun. They were sung by three foremost Baroque exponents, Roberta Invernizzi, Helena Rasker and Roberta Mameli (respectively), in historical costuming, with some movement before the stage curtain. Urania, the muse of astronomy and Clio, the muse of history, along with the sun are extolling the beauties of the mythical Filli and her locale – purely allegorical, although there may be historical implications about which we know little. Mameli’s soprano – clear, accurate, flexible – does seem to hit one right in the sweet spot of the ear. Perhaps due to the acoustics, all the singers in this evening’s programme sounded powerful and penetrating to every corner of the room. Invernizzi is similar in tone and quality to Mameli, and Rasker has one of the warmest and most resonant of alto voices. The orchestral playing by Ensemble 1700 under Dorothee Oberlinger was exquisite, as it was for the whole program.

Handel’s Sonata a 5 voci in B flat major was composed in Italy in 1707 and is usually reckoned to be his earliest concerto. It went well as a companion to the two other early eighteenth century works, with a stunning violin solo by Evgeny Sviridov, and a joyous attack on the Allegro and a rousing finale.

Roberta Mameli, Helena Rasker, João Fernandes, Maria Ladurner, Roberta Invernizzi, Bruno de Sá © Stefan Gloede | Musikfestspiele Potsdam Sanssouci
Roberta Mameli, Helena Rasker, João Fernandes, Maria Ladurner, Roberta Invernizzi, Bruno de Sá
© Stefan Gloede | Musikfestspiele Potsdam Sanssouci

After the interval, Polifemo was performed, a work mingling two classical myths, that of Aci (Acis), Galatea and Polifemo (Polyphemus) – also known in two main Handel versions and many others – the other of Glauco (Glaucus) and Silla (Scylla) and their interaction with the notorious sorceress Circe (well known in the Odyssey for turning Odysseus’s sailors into swine). In this instance, out of jealousy she turns Silla into a sea monster: not quite the mass of swirling serpents’ and snarling dog’s heads of the original, but a rather sweet creature with otter hands. Even though Polifemo hits Aci on the head with a rock, in this version all the lovers survive with the right partners due to the intervention of Venus who declares that death has no power in her realm. The work proceeds with little recitative and one shortish but delightful aria after another.

For this work, the curtains drew back to display a charming Baroque scene with a rocky ravine depicted in the flats, later a delightful seascape with rolling waves and finally a pearl throne for the goddess of love. Polifemo was initially a rather comic character, if less so after the rock came down, and he was sung by the smooth bass João Fernandes. All the singers made the most of their roles vocally, with many decorated lines and riveting cadenzas, all sung with good Italian diction and penetrating voice, matching their moods and thoughts with appropriate actions. Aci was sung by a wonderful young sopranista Bruno de Sá from Brazil who is slight of stature but his full-bodied uncovered tone rang out with quite a lot of purity and indeed sweetness and accuracy. Invernizzi was Galatea, and Silla was sung by Mameli. Rasker was an amusing rough-hewn Glauco – quite a contrast with the dignified Clio. The role of Circe was sung with appropriate wiles and suppressed venom by Russian soprano Liliya Gaysina with flexibility and towering top notes, and another soprano, Maria Ladurner, sang Venere (Venus) with silvery tone and nice decoration.

****1