Unconventional Baroque Music (Vocal)
Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
L'Incoronazione di Dario

Harmonia Mundi France Musique d'abord 1901235.37 (3 CDs)
Recorded in 1986 at Nice, France

Vocal transvestism at work?
After the death of Ciro, King of the Persians, there are three candidates for the throne. Dario, Arpago and Oronte. To avoid the conflict and bloodshed, Dario makes suggestion: the crown shall go to successful suitor for Statira, the eldest daughter of the deceased king. The story has an added complexity since not only the three suitors, but also Nicero, her instructor is also in love with her. At the same time, Statora's cunning sister, Argene is in love with Dario. Finally, the Median princess Alinda is in love with the one of the suitor, Oronte. Argene allies with Niceno and try to abandon her naive sister in the forest for the wild animals. The deceit is finally discovered by Dario who marries to Statira and her sister is severely punished.

Complex love triangles get even more complex, as one can see from the following casting table, three of four female roles are sung by male altos and two of the four male roles are sung by female sopranos. Moreover, one of the soprano, Isabella Poulenard* sings two different roles, one male and one female. Vocal transvestism at work? For good measure to confuse the listener even more, the 100 page libretto gives no translation, but only a synopsis in English, French and German. It is challenging to follow the story but there are plenty of good music and good singing to enjoy. Considering the very modest cost of Musique d'abord series, this set is well worth for investiment. This performance is given 2.5 stars out of 3 in Penguin Guide to Compact Disks 1999.

Female Roles Male Roles

Statira (naiveprincess, oldest daughter of King Ciro)
Gerard Lesne, counter-tenor

Argene (her younger sister)
Henri Ledroit, counter-tenor

Flora (lady-in-waiting and confidante for two princesses)
Dominique Visse, counter-tenor

Alinda (princess of Media, in love with Oronte)
Isabelle Poulenard*, soprano

Dario (future king of Persia)
John Elwes, tenor

Arpago (rival of Dario, desires to marry Statira)
Isabelle Poulenard*, soprano

Oronte (rival of Dario, Persian nobility desires to marry Statira)
Agnes Mellon, soprano

Niceno (Philosopher and instructor of two princesses)
Michel Verschaeve, baritone

Benedetto Marcello (1686-1739)

Estro poetico armonico
Kikko Classic KC019CD
Recorded in 1998 at Milan, Italy

Switching gender rolls
Claire Brua, contralto  Paola Franco, contralto  Simone Bartolini, sopranista www.simonebartolini.it

Marcello was a lawyer and not a professional musician. He belonged to a group of Venetian nobles who applied their brilliance to music. Estro poetico armonico is considered to be his most important work. As Marcello did not have to please anyone but himself, he could take a very liberal approach. The contents of this collection of 50 Psalms are not oratorio, nor cantatas, nor liturgical compositions. It is a rather free spirited paraphrases that often stray from the biblical text of the Psalms. They were written by another Venetian noble, Giustiniani, in Italian and not in latin with the intention of bringing them to common people. Marcello used old Jewish melodies in this work, as he wanted to revive the "true" music of the Ancient World. He didn't allow any kind of ornaments for the sake of "pure music".

Apart from the intrinsic uniqueness of the music, even more unique thing about this CD is that the higher vocal part (soprano) is assigned to a male sopranista while the lower alto part is sung by a female contralto. This very curious gender roll switch occurs in the Salmo III " O Dio perchè cotanto è mai cresciuto" although this situation may not match the original setting by Marcello.

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