The CNDM (the National Centre for Musical Promotion), one of the most groundbreaking musical endeavours in Spain, brought to Madrid this concert performance of a rare opera by forgotten composer Francesco Maria Veracini. It was the third time this interesting score was played after more than two centuries of dust and darkness, and the result was a fine night of Baroque opera, led by the Europa Galante at their best. Although the quality of the opera is undeniable, Monday's performance lacked the touch of thrilling anticipation of previous rediscoveries, which might hint at the first symptoms of exhaustion of a model that has dominated the world of Baroque music during the last decade (maybe Baroque music has encountered the law of diminishing returns).

Roberta Invernizzi © Ribaltaluce Studio
Roberta Invernizzi
© Ribaltaluce Studio

Adriano in Siria premiered at the Haymarket Theatre in the golden years of London's musical life: opera-star Farinelli had just moved to the city in 1734, Handel's Ariodante premiered at the Covent Garden Theatre in January 1735, and Alcina was brought to life in April this same year. In November Veracini presented his first opera for the Opera of the Nobility (a company set up to rival Handel's Royal Academy of Music), with castrati Senesino and Farinelli in the main roles, achieving a remarkable success.

Adriano's score is far from the sumptuosity of some of its contemporaries. Veracini, a gifted violinist, based its austere orchestration on the strings and the harpsichord, leaving two flutes, two trumpets and two horns for occasional support in the arias and the group scenes. This apparent monotony was compensated last night by vibrant conducting by Fabio Biondi, who also played the violin, in a truly historicist impersonation of Veracini. Under his strict command (they spent five minutes thoroughly tuning the instruments before Act III), Europa Galante gave an extraordinary rendition of the score, with their characteristically clear sound, perfectly bound and homogeneous. Their control of dynamics and density in the strings is a true accomplishment, as well as a balanced sense of contrast achieved through an intelligent use of tempi. Biondi even had the chance to show his ability as a soloist in the two beautiful cadenzas in Farnace's aria in Act III, "Son sventurato".

Unfortunately, the fine music is not matched by an inspiring story. Based on a libretto by Metastasio that has been worn out by more than 50 opera adaptations, the story is a constant déjà-vu of the archetypical historical drama. With only one duo and very few choral scenes, the plot lacks tension and the characters are not especially well defined; not even Adriano, a rigid and half-baked version of the paradigm of the good king. The role was performed by Italian mezzo Sonia Prina, who has one of the most bizarre singing techniques, dark and solid in the chest voice but weak in the central notes, which are essential to build up its complex tessitura composed for Senesino. She compensated these flaws, including a rather inaccurate coloratura, with fiery phrasing and an electric stage persona.

Farnaspe, a role devilishly written for Farinelli, was sung by Vivica Genaux, who has revived on many occasions Italian castrato roles. The voice, which never had a rich timbre, has lost some of its impact, but still keeps its ability to rekindle the fantasy of a lost way of singing. Attentive and musical in the more lyric arias ("Parto, sì, bella tiranna"), she got the loudest ovation of the night with the impossible "Amor, dover, rispetto", where she struggled to survive to the endless strings of coloratura.

Roberta Invernizzi gave the most accomplished performance of the night, with a sweet and vivid portrait of Emirena. A somewhat underrated soprano, poorly known outside the circles of Baroque operagoers, she has a beautiful lyric voice, extremely rich and round in the upper middle notes. A specialist in da capo, she sang a perfect "Quell'amplesso e quel perdono", with mesmerising variations in mezza voce. The cast was completed by Kristina Hammarström, who wasted the incredible scene "Io piango?…Numi, se giusti siete", one of the few truly dramatic moments in the opera; Lucia Cirillo, a mezzo with a very interesting voice who made the most of the supporting role of Idalma; and Ugo Guagliardo, a bit disappointing in the difficult arias of the king Osroa.

***11