Monday, September 3, 2012

Ars Lyrica's latest recording — of Domenico Scarlatti's comic intermezzo "La Dirindina" and his chamber cantata "Pur nel sonno" — has just been released on the Sono Luminus label. It can be purchased from Ars Lyrica or from dozens of websites, including Featured singers include mezzo Jamie Barton, tenor Joseph Gaines, baritone Brian Shircliffe (all in "La Dirindina") and soprano CĂ©line Ricci (in "Pur nel sonno"). The disc also includes two Scarlatti sonatas, arranged for mandolin and harpsichord, which feature lutenist Richard Savino and yours truly on harpsichord.

"La Dirindina" is a musical farce, and like all intermezzi, it’s both comic and compact. The story concerns the wily and but gifted young singer Dirindina and her teacher Don Carissimo, whose interest in his pupil is more than a little untoward. As the curtain goes up, a singing lesson is underway, and it is clear that neither student nor teacher are very interested the day’s lesson plan. Dirindina’s independent spirit and her ability to sing (when she wants to) annoy Don Carissimo, who is further vexed by the appearance of Liscione, a famous castrato who brings some surprising news: the Milan theater wants to engage Dirindina as its prima donna. Don Carissimo flies into a rage, stammering his way through a highly amusing and inventive aria, only to see that his pretty pupil is now flirting openly with the castrato. An obligatory ensemble, with Dirindina and Liscione in musical and dramatic opposition to Don Carissimo, brings Part I to a close.

Part II opens with the unctuous Liscione plying Dirindina with a little minuet, which manages simultaneously to flatter the young singer’s ego while sending up the fashionable but sentimental manners of the aristocracy. Dirindina responds with perhaps the oddest aria in the work, full of syncopations and serpentine melodies that cheekily invoke various bodily fluids, with which she promises to seduce the Milanese public. The ensuing “play within a play,” a mock enactment of the tragic Dido’s rejection of the feckless Aeneas, is witnessed by Don Carissimo, who fails to get the joke and thinks that his ward is not only with child but ready to commit suicide. As with all good comedies, the joke’s on him: the finale is both outrageous and touching, as the capon and the hen are joined in hand by a thoroughly confused old man.

The text of "Pur nel sonno" is delivered from the unlucky suitor’s point of view, and from the outset, the mood is dark: an Introduzione in two parts—something one expects at the head of a full-length opera or oratorio, but rarely in a cantata—is by turns aggressive and pensive. The sinewy first aria introduces a world-weary lover, one rejected by the unattainable Phyllis but unable to forget her, even in sleep; his passion remains sadly one-sided. A highly dramatic recitative follows, as the protagonist’s dream veers from lovely visions to fear and shame. The realization that he’ll never be free again is given full vent in a tour-de-force concluding aria with abundant vocal fireworks.