Alessandro Melani: L'Empio Punito. © 2020 note 1 music gmbh

CD Spotlight

Don Giovanni's Ancestor

GIUSEPPE PENNISI listens to the seventeenth century 'L'Empio Punito' by Alessandro Melani

'... a real discovery for opera lovers who have not experienced a live performance.'


About a year ago, on 5 October 2019, I reviewed the modern revival of L'empio punito (The rake's punishment) by Alessandro Melani (1639-1703), to a libretto by Giovanni Filippo Apolloni and Filippo Acciaiuoli in a production by the Reate Festival and the Teatro di Villa Torlonia in Rome. The conclusion was that most likely, that production would have been the start of a new life for L'empio punito for two reasons: it is an absolute masterpiece, at the level of Monteverdi's operas; and it is an excellent example of the Roman Baroque. The Baroque schools of Venice and Naples are well known and studied; however, only a few scholars - Lorenzo Tozzi, Alessandro Quarta and Andrea De Carlo - devote time and effort to delve into Roman Baroque music and operas. The style is terse, not flowery; the choral parts recall madrigals. Yet, without a knowledge of Roman Baroque it is hard to understand Handel, who lived and worked in Rome during his formative years, especially his now famous oratorio Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno, reviewed often in this magazine, most recently in a Ravenna Festival production on 28 June 2020.

I refer to the October 2019 review for the background information and performance history of this opera that is the first ancestor of Mozart's Don Giovanni. Although set in mythological Greece, it is based on El burlador de Seville y convidado de pietra by Tirso de Molina as seen through Dom Juan ou le Festin de Pierre by Molière premiered in Paris in 1665, just four years before the Rome debut of L'empio punito.

The forecast of a new life for this forgotten yet very interesting opera was right. Only a few months after the Rome and Rieti - the home of the Reate Festival - staging, a new production was in Pisa and Pistoia - the city where Melani was born. This three CD set is a live recording of that production.

Listen — Melani: Sinfonia (L'Empio Punito)
(CD1 track 1, 0:02-0:43) © 2020 note 1 music gmbh :

There are many differences between the two productions. The Rome-Rieti staging was low cost, with simple sets and modern costumes, whereas the photos in the CD booklet show rather elaborate scenes and attire. In addition, the Rome-Rieti production had some cuts and was divided into two acts; the Pisa-Pistoia staging and the CD set provide the unabridged libretto and score in three acts. Finally, in Rome-Rieti the singers were excellent young professionals, mainly just out of the Rome Santa Cecilia Conservatory: they were eleven singers/actors for twenty roles - and the orchestra was a young Baroque ensemble playing period instruments. Instead, in Pisa-Pistoia, and on the CDs, the best known Italian Baroque singers were selected as principals and the orchestra was Auser Musici, an international Baroque ensemble based in Pisa. This is a very experienced and savvy group. In this magazine's predecessor Music & Vision their performances of rare Baroque operas have been reviewed in Barga (20 July 2014), Florence (15 January 2017) and Pisa (8 December 2017).

The orchestral ensemble provides the right flavour from the overture and the sarabanda which frame the first act as well as in the dance of the second act and in the finale of the third act and of the opera.

Listen — Melani: Sarabanda (L'Empio Punito Act I)
(CD1 track 32, 0:00-0:40) © 2020 note 1 music gmbh :

The protagonist, ie the rake, is one of the finest countertenors, Raffeale Pé and his former lover soprano Raffaella Milanesi : for a taste of their seductive vocalizing, listen to the aria and duet in the first act.

Listen — Melani: Io v'amai e v'adorai / Assistimi Amore (L'Empio Punito Act I)
(CD1 track 13, 1:17-track 14, 0:32) © 2020 note 1 music gmbh :

Roberta Invernizzi is the new woman he is trying to conquer, a strong personality from her entry aria to her passionate appeal (Track 13 CD2) and her song to conquer her former fiancé again (Track 3 CD 3) .

Listen — Melani: Troppo tardi, o mio ben (L'Empio Punito Act II)
(CD2 track 13, 0:47-1:17) © 2020 note 1 music gmbh :

Drama is intertwined with comedy: among the principals, there are two buffo, the rake's servant, Giorgio Celenza, and the new attempted conquest's nurse, Alberto Allegrezza.

In the less important parts, there are very good young singers, ie Piersilvio De Santis as Caronte, the sailor that takes rakes to hell.

In short, this is a real discovery for opera lovers who have not experienced a live performance.

Copyright © 20 October 2020 Giuseppe Pennisi,
Rome, Italy






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