The 18th century – the golden century of the music in Naples – formed the core of the 45th edition of the Festival della Valle d'Itria in Martina Franca. It featured works by Nicola Manfroce, Domenico Cimarosa and Nicola Porpora, each performed in the scenic courtyard of the Palazzo Ducale.

Anna Maria Sarra (Euridice) and Raffaele Pe (Orfeo) © Clarissa Lapolla
Anna Maria Sarra (Euridice) and Raffaele Pe (Orfeo)
© Clarissa Lapolla

Porpora's Orfeo was given its first performance in modern times, in the new critical edition work by Giovanni Andrea Sechi. It was an evening that recreated the atmosphere of its London premiere, staged in 1736 by the Opera of the Nobility, a company founded by Frederick of Hanover, Prince of Wales.

The opera is a pasticcio – a work formed of music by various composers – featuring arias by Porpora and Johann Adolf Hasse (among others) and the premiere starred Farinelli and Senesino, the castrato virtuosi of their day. Porpora recycled his own arias, composed some new ones (to texts by Paolo Rolli) and took others from Vinci, Veracini, Hasse, Giacomelli and Araja. In spite of its variety of sources, the result is a dramaturgically consistent work, with the plot revised to an unexpectedly happy ending where Eurydice returns to life. Porpora’s rendition of Orpheus, the character who is at the core of operatic music, develops a reflection on love and death. Rolli's libretto is dramaturgically effective, but it is the score that provides consistency with an awesome assortment of refined music.

Rodrigo Sosa Dal Pozzo (Aristeo) © Clarissa Lapolla
Rodrigo Sosa Dal Pozzo (Aristeo)
© Clarissa Lapolla

Raffaele Pe, a famous countertenor in this repertoire, took the Farinelli role of Orfeo, tender and poignant, desperate and painful at first, until he successfully rescues Eurydice. His voice was tender and smooth, with great musicality and agility even if, here and there, it showed some weariness, probably due to the great number of arias Orfeo is assigned.

Aristeo was sung by Rodrigo Sosa Dal Pozzo, another countertenor but with a different, complementary timbre to Pe. His may not be a particularly charming vocie, but was precise in intonation and agility.

The other principals were also brilliant, both in terms of vocal style and dramatic interpretation. Eurydice was sung by Anna Maria Sarra with a gleaming, well-balanced soprano. Federica Carnevale was very good in the role of Autonoe, smooth and accurate; the gloomy Pluto had the severe bass-baritone of Davide Giangregorio, while the passionate Proserpina was sung by Giuseppina Bridelli, perhaps the highlight of the night; her character shone melodiously throughout the show. The vocal quartet composed of Donatella De Luca, Arianna Manganiello, Dario Pometti and Alberto Comes also offered good performances.

Anna Maria Sara (Euridice) © Clarissa Lapolla
Anna Maria Sara (Euridice)
© Clarissa Lapolla

Director Massimo Gasparon was responsible for the sets and costumes. His staging sublimated Baroque excesses into a solemn and sober stylization, with only the magnificent costumes to remind us of the visual richness of the age. On a nearly bare stage, the lavish blaze of purple, gold and crimson brocade stood out magnificently.

George Petrou conducted the orchestra Armonia Atenea with great colour, richness, rhythmic accuracy and dynamic variety.

****1