Stradella: La Circe. 1st and 2nd versions. © 2021 Dynamic Srl

CD Spotlight

A Dazzling Career and a Dissolute Life

Two versions of Alessandro Stradella's serenata 'La Circe', reviewed by GERALD FENECH

'Estevan Velardi executes this rare programme with exceptional insight and skill ...'


Alessandro Stradella was the 'enfant terrible' of the Italian Baroque in more ways than one. Violent and licentious, he even tried to embezzle the Catholic Church. But in his trade as a musician he was the greatest genius of his time. Born in Bologna on 3 July 1639, very little is known about his early life. What we do know is that he was from a Tuscan aristocratic family, educated in Rome, and was already leaving his mark as a composer at the age of twenty-four. In 1667 he composed an oratorio (now lost) for the Confraternity of Crocifisso di San Marcello, and in the following year the Seranata La Circe, the work under review, for the Princess Rossano Olimpia Aldobrandini Pamphilj.

Between 1671 and 1672 he was responsible for staging two operas each by Francesco Cavalli and Antonio Cesti, composing prologues, intermedios and new arias. In the early 1670s he also composed some operas performed in private theatres and for aristocratic families. By this time his dissolute life started to catch up with him, and his many scandalous affairs made him a target for murder. Indeed, on 25 February 1682, he was stabbed to death at the Piazza Banchi in Genoa, after a nobleman of the Lomellini family hired an assassin to put an end to Stradella's life.

His legacy is as rich as his dazzling career, and he left for posterity a substantial number of works in a variety of genres.

The Serenata La Circe was commissioned, as indicated above, by Princess Olimpia Aldobrandini, a Florentine dignitary and widow. She had been married twice to Roman male members of the powerful Borghese and Pamphilj families, but by 1668 both husbands had died. The occasion was a lavish party at her villa in Frascati hills on 16 May 1668 that celebrated Leopoldo de Medici becoming Cardinal.

Listen — Stradella: Allegro, Giga (Se desio curioso il cor v’ingombra [ossia] La Circe)
(CD1 track 7, 1:24-1:55) ℗ 2021 Dynamic Srl :

The Serenata, to words by the poet Giovan Filippo Apolloni, has as background a beautiful fountain on the greeny slopes of Parnassus. The ghost of Circe the sorceress emerging from the Elysian Fields reminds us that she is Apollo's daughter, and informs us that she is searching for the tomb of her son Telegonus, but has become distracted by a bright light. The Frascati river god Algido describes this light as that of the presence of a Medici. Circe proceeds to have a conversation with an echoing Zephyr, as all three singers go on to offer the praises of the new Cardinal. According to eyewitnesses at the party, each of the soloists presented expensive gifts to the distinguished Medici guest.

Listen — Stradella: Zeffiretti de’verdi monti (Bei ruscelli cristallini [ossia] La Circe)
(CD2 track 27, 0:00-0:45) ℗ 2021 Dynamic Srl :

Stradella was one of the most prolific and imaginative composers of his time. Indeed, his extant pieces, numbering just over three hundred, include works in all major genres, and La Circe is regarded as one of the most innovative. When listening to this relatively short piece one cannot but admire the composer's melodious gifts and harmonic audacity, not to mention the deliciously lyrical expressiveness of the singing parts.

This splendid issue also includes the world premiere recording of Stradella's second version of 'La Circe' and three other works, among which is Cesti's prologue to La Dori, also a world premiere recording.

Listen — Dormi, Titone, addio! (Prologo fatto per 'La Dori')
(CD1 track 2, 0:00-0:46) ℗ 2021 Dynamic Srl :

Estevan Velardi executes this rare programme with exceptional insight and skill, never falling into that sentimentality that can ruin the emotional content of such works. Singers and instrumentalists are on top form. Surprise yourself with a true gem full of pleasant delights.

Copyright © 22 April 2021 Gerald Fenech,
Gzira, Malta








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