Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710-1736) lived a
brief life, perhaps the shortest one of all of the
composers “of note.” Although his legacy is not
voluminous, it is nonetheless significant,
particularly in opera buffa, a genre which he
pioneered. “La Serva Padrona,” dating from 1733
is his most famous work by far in this category.
Typically, it has a running time of approximately
45 minutes and is considered to be an “Intermezzo,”
versus a full-fledged opera. One year earlier, Pergolesi
made the first attempt at comic opera with
“Lo Frate ‘Nnamorato,” (The Enamored Brother).
This two-hour, 50-minute piece is an ensemble work
for nine or 10 singers.
Not long ago, I watched a 1989 La Scala production of
“Lo Frate ‘Nnamorato” on DVD, taken from the RAI
Television archives. Even now, it may still be the only
recording of this rarity. Maestro Ricardo Muti is
therefore deserving of our gratitude for his exhumation
of the work, as well as leading a great performance
with a fine cast of singers. While I didn’t recognize any
of them, they all acquitted themselves well and there
was little wanting, from a musical standpoint.
The performance was provided via modern instruments
versus “period” instruments, but this wasn’t a
problem for me. Maestro Muti led a compelling
rendition of this tale of arranged marriages and
mistaken identity, which was set to a libretto by
Gennaro Antonio Federico.
The set design was a single revolving edifice, and
the singers were costumed in period appropriate
garments. I had no complaints about the staging.
The recorded sound was adequate for the technology
of the 1980’s, and this disc was released by the
Opus Arte label, with the option of English subtitles.
One interesting point: At the beginning of Act I, I was
able to recognize some of the melodies that
Igor Stravinsky “pilfered” for his ballet, “Pulcinella.”
Much of the music “attributed” to Pergolesi has since
proven to be spurious; however, these snippets were
“Lo Frate ‘Nnamorato” contains a lot of beautiful music,
and a fine performance like this one is worth checking
out. But once again, I found myself solely focusing on
the music and the sounds emitted by the singers, rather
than what the characters were communicating. This has
become an all too common scenario for me, vis-à-vis
sung music, operatic or otherwise. I’m simply not as
interested in these types of plotlines. At any rate,
I can still recommend this DVD for those who are
interested in opera buffa.