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Pergolesi: Adriano in Siria

Ancona Marina Comparato (Adriano), Lucia Cirillo (Emirena), Annamaria Dell’Oste (Farnaspe), Nicole Heaston (Sabina), Stefano Ferrari (Osroa) & Francesca Lombardi (Aquilio Tribuno) Accademia Bizantina, Ottavio Dantone (conductor) & Ignacio García (director)

Pergolesi Spring Festival, Jesi, 2010

Opus Arte OA1065D & BluRay OA BD 7098 D

If you have reservations about Opera Seria as a genre, this superlative DVD may be the one to convert you.

There are few reviews of the live performances in Pergolesi's home town; one in The Opera Critic (in Italian) mentions longuers; these vanish in the superbly filmed Blu-ray disc.

If you want the tortuous story in Metastasio's libretto (used several times before Pergolesi's) see Keris Nine's comprehensive review : "every bit as brilliant and enchanting as Handel, Gluck or Mozart".

Watching the DVD all gradually becomes clear, though it is a pity that the "chapters" given on screen are not listed in the booklet too; however, the subtitles are well managed.

Praise all round for uniformly excellent singers, mainly young and their names not well known (music director conductor Ottavio Dantone prefers them that way) who enter the spirit with style; easy, natural sounding ornamentation means that the da capo arias never become boring.

But this is a DVD live filming in which everyone plays an essential part. The orchestra is fabulous, and seizes attention at many points; Oliver Dantone is a conductor/harpsichordist of proven flair; in an informal talk he marvels at the quality of the short-lived Pergolesi who achieved imperishable masterpieces - notably Adriano in Siria and L'Olimpiade - before his death at 26.

The recorded sound is vivid and camera shots enhance our pleasure with telling close-ups which are never overdone. The costumes and sets are just right for helping us to place the machinations around the Caesar Hadrian of the time; most of the male parts are taken by women - sample generous excerpts on YouTube.

The orchestra, always in sight and not down in a "pit", is a constant presence, and the action spills into the audience in the comic interludes with disguises and farce provided during the intervals of the main opera, as was the way of the time. Pergolesi's 'Livietto e Tracollo', composed for a Neapolitan audience, is included between the acts of Adriano in Siria; just as funny as many comparable scenes in Shakespeare.

The cast, with no weaknesses, includes as supernumeraries a well trained falcon & a canary, and a lovely touch in the gorgeous aria at the end of Act I "At times the nightingale is heard, still happily singing in its captivity", has an onstage solo oboe accompaniment that evokes birdsong.

Peter Grahame Woolf