Barocco Europeo 2023 Review: Aci, Galatea e Polifemo

Three Young Singers Make Strong Impression

By Alan Neilson
(Photo: Elisa Andreassi)

Barocco Europeo, founded by Donatella Busetto, is a small association aimed at promoting early music through concerts, masterclasses, seminars and staged operas mainly, although not exclusively, in the north-east of Italy. It is a small-scale operation on a limited budget and tends to perform in small theaters in towns and cities of various sizes, with variable opportunities for its residents to attend an opera. Its recent production of Händel’s cantata “Aci, Galatea e Polifemo” was staged in Gorizia, Trieste, although obviously not at the main opera house, and in the small town of San Vito Tagliamento in a theatre with a seating capacity of less than 200, where OperaWire was fortunate to catch a performance.

The word fortunate has been chosen deliberately, for this was a performance of real quality in which the beauty of the music was heightened by the intimacy of the theatre in a way that would have been impossible in a large house. And the singing was simply wonderful.

Although the scenery amounted to no more than a single basic set, it would not have looked out of place on the stages of major companies. Certainly, less convincing stagings are not unusual! It was aesthetically pleasing and successfully conjured up the pastoral aspects of the work. The design by the students from the Nuova Accademia di Belle Arti, under the guidance of their teachers, Giacomo Andrico, Francesca Pedrotti and Francesca Guarnone, consisted of nothing more than a few rows of colorful, large, papier mâché flowers, which were sensitively illuminated with changing block-colored lighting to alter the atmosphere. Cesare Scarton, the director, provided strong direction so that the singers essayed their characters’ behavior with animated clarity. Rarely did the movement or energy of the singers slacken; it was engaging throughout. Apart from three actors who mimed the singers’ behavior and emotions, there was no attempt to add any deep insights or promote any single theme; it was a simple, colorful telling of the narrative, and it worked very well.

Three Excellent Performances From A Young Cast

One of Busetto’s main objectives in running Barocco Europeo is to provide opportunities for young singers to gain more experience performing in front of live audiences. And it is something she is very passionate about. The singers were chosen through a competition by a panel of judges, which included the renowned baroque specialist mezzo-soprano Sara Mingardo, who also instructed the singers in preparing for their roles. All three of the chosen singers performed excellently, to the extent that their performances would have stood comparison with far more established singers.

The standout, however, was mezzo-soprano Emma Alessi Innocenti in the role of Galatea. She has a voice made for the theatre. Such is the detail and subtlety with which she is able to furnish the vocal line that her quality of expression is breathtaking; it allowed her to portray Galatea’s layered emotional depths, twists and turns with an impressive degree of realism, which she backed up with a fine acting performance. In the opening scene, she voiced her fears in her aria “Sforzano in piangere con più delor,” in which she immediately captured the attention with her sensitive phrasing, pleasing vocal coloring and the beauty and lyricism of her singing. Following the death of Aci, she exploded at Polifemo with a fierce rendition of the aria “Del mar fra l’onde,” in which all her suffering, anger and defiance poured forth, allowing her to display her vocal agility through her accenting, sharp dynamic contrasts and emotionally strong coloratura. It was a performance in which she completely immersed herself.

Bass Yurri Guerra produced a strong performance as Polifemo, in which he successfully brought out the character’s menace and violence. Dressed in black, he roamed the stage with a self-confident swagger and asserted his will forcibly. He possesses a flexible voice with a pleasing timbre, which he is able to imbue with colorful shadings and emotional depth. There is also a pleasing freedom to his delivery, so that his singing always sounded firm and secure. Recitatives were well-crafted and expressive, while in his arias, he not only captured their emotional power, but also their innate beauty. In particular, the challenging aria “Fra l’ombra e gl’orrori” showed off the range and expressivity of his voice to good effect. From its rumbling depths, he allowed his voice to swell seamlessly, which he coated with a deep melancholic air with graceful forays into the upper register.

In the aria “Qui l’augel da pianta in pianta,” soprano Maddalena de Biasi, in the role of Aci, was able to show off the crystalline beauty and agility of her voice, along with her impressive technique, in a string of delicately crafted lines in which she mimicked birdsong with her precise trilling and ornate coloratura. The aria was presented with an elegance and sensitivity that marked the high point of what was a compelling performance that entranced the audience. Hers was a feisty, courageous and ardent Aci, whose love for Galatea was clearly displayed.

The Concerti del Cenacolo Musicale, consisting of 15 musicians situated in front of the stage and two trumpets, one each situated in the upper boxes on either side of the stage, produced a sensitive performance under the direction of Riccardo Doni. Always attentive to the singers’ needs, he ensured a good balance was maintained between all the musicians throughout the evening. The melodies of the arias and ensembles were beautifully crafted without compromising the dramatic tensions on stage.

By any standards, this was an excellent production, and the intimate space of the Teatro G.G. Arrigoni only added to its success. It is a testament to Busetto’s vision, commitment and hard work that an opera of this standard can be provided in such a small venue. How many other towns with a population of only 15,000, not just in Italy but across Europe, could boast of hosting such an event on an early Sunday evening?


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