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Bonaventura ALIOTTI (c1640 - c1690): Il trionfo della morte per il peccato d'Adamo

Capucine Keller (Eva), Anne Magouët (Ragione), soprano; Paulin Bündgen (Morte), alto; Vincent Bouchot (Adamo), tenor; Renaud Delaigue (Iddio, Lucifero), Emmanuel Vistorky (Senso), bass
Les Traversées Baroques
Dir: Étienne Meyer

rec: Nov & Dec 2019, Paray-le-Monial, Musée du Hiéron
Accent - ACC 24368 (© 2020) (1.34'52")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: F
Cover, track-list & booklet

Lise Viricel, Anne Magouët, Paulin Bündgen, Vincent Bouchot, Renaud Delaigue (Coro di Virtù, di Demoni & d'Angeli)
Judith Paquier, Liselotte Emery, recorder, cornett; Monika Fischaleck, recorder, bassoon; Jasmine Eudeline, Saskia Birchler, violin; Ronald Martin Alonso, Christine Plubeau, viola da gamba; Étienne Mangot, viola all'inglese, viola da gamba, cello; Elidie Peudepièce, violone, double bass; Matthias Spaeter, theorbo; Laurent Stewart, harpsichord, organ

In the course of the 17th century the oratorio - also known under the title of dialogo sacro and, if they were not that long, even 'motet' - developed into one of the main musical genres in Italy. Such a work could have a text in Latin, or in the vernacular; the latter was known as oratorio volgare. It was an important tool to communicate the doctrine of the church to people who did not understand Latin. That was one of the aims of the Counter Reformation. Oratorios were usually performed during Lent, when opera performances were not allowed. Despite their spiritual content, they were also treated as entertainment: a contemporary of Bonaventura Aliotti heard a performance of his oratorio Il trionfo della morte and called it an "extraordinary entertainment".

This oratorio, a specimen of the genre of the oratorio volgare, is the subject of the recording to be reviewed. Aliotti was from Palermo in Sicily, and there he also died. In between he worked in several cities in Italy as organist or maestro di cappella. Aliotti was a Conventual Franciscan (Minorite) friar, and was also known as Padre Palermino. In Palermo he received a musical training from Giovanni Battista Fasolo, who was maestro di cappella to the Archbishop of Monreale, near Palermo, from 1659 until 1664. Another important source of influence was Bonaventura Rubino, maestro di cappella of Palermo Cathedral from 1643 to 1665; he belonged to the same order as Aliotti.

In 1671 Aliotti moved to Padua, where he first became organist and then assistant maestro di cappella at the Franciscan basilica of Sant'Antonio; one of his colleagues was Carlo Pallavicino. In 1674 he left Padua, and after a short period in which he worked as organist in Venice, he moved to Ferrara, where he became organist at the Oratorio dell'Annunziata. There other prestigious composers were active, such as Giovanni Legrenzi, Giovanni Paolo Colonna and Alessandro Melani. In 1677 he left Ferrara and worked for about a year as maestro di cappella at Spoleto Cathedral. In 1679 he returned to Sicily, where he took up several posts as maestro di cappella, such as at the Cathedral. There he wrote the most of his oeuvre.

However, it was in Padua where he performed his first oratorio, La morte di S Antonio da Padova. It may have been the first time such a work was performed there, because there was no tradition in this department, unlike in Palermo. It was the first of eleven oratorios written by Aliotti; four of them have survived, and one is Il trionfo della morte per il peccato d'Adamo, which is the second such work Aliotti composed. It received its first performance in 1677 in Ferrara. As was the custom at the time, it is divided into two parts. The vocal scoring is for seven voices and an instrumental ensemble in four to five parts. The booklet does not mention which instruments Aliotti has indicated in the score. In addition to the usual violins and basso continuo, the ensemble includes recorders and cornetts.

The libretto is based on the second and third chapters of the Old Testament book of Genesis. However, the narrative is treated with much liberty. In the first part Adam (tenor) and Eve (soprano) express their mutual love. Reason (Ragione; soprano) intervenes and warns Adam that earthly love is dangerous: he rather should turn his sentiments towards Heaven. A choir of virtues sings that he who is born to love Heaven, is not able to withstand the waves of a stormy sea if he embraces fragile beauty. Next we meet two opposing characters: Death (Morte; alto) and Passion (Senso; bass). Death boasts that he is invincible, but unfortunately man is safe as long as he lives in Paradise. There is one way of changing this state of affairs, and for that he needs Passion, but Passion does not know how to beat Reason. Death has the solution, and in comes Lucifer, who calls for the Furies to come forward. He decides to approach Eve in the shape of a serpent. Eve sings an aria about love and the joys of living in Paradise. Lucifer enters and calls her. He tells her that if she eats the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (which God had forbidden) she will be a god. She is strongly tempted, and Reason sees the danger: what will happen to Adam, when Eve will succumb? The chorus of Demons answers that he will fall.

At the start of the second part Death and Passion glow at the prospect of the fall of Adam and Eve. The latter indeed succumbs, but at first Adam does resist her attempts to make him eat of the fruit too. Eve reacts by singing a lamento, which is by far the longest aria in the oratorio. Reason tries to strengthen Adams resistance, but in the end to no avail. A chorus of angels sings that mankind has fallen. God approaches Adam and asks: Where are you? Adam confesses his sin, but blames Eve. She then confesses too, but blames the serpent. God proclaims the punishment: death will enter the lives of all human beings, and their life will be full of trials and tribulations. Death and Passion enjoy their victory. However, that is not the end. God tells man that his goodness does not deny mercy to him that asks for it and "humbly begs and prays". That is also moral lesson in the closing chorus: if man humbly kneels, God is a God of Love.

I already mentioned Eve's lament as the longest aria in this oratorio. Most arias are rather short; only two take more than three minutes. There are no dacapos, although now and then there is a hint at this form. The solo voices are accompanied by basso continuo; the instruments enter at the end with a ritornello. Both parts of the oratorio open with a sinfonia. There is little formal difference between recitative and aria. In the oratorios of the time drama is mostly absent. Although the events are certainly dramatic, the development takes its time, and there are no strong dramatic conflicts between the protagonists. Moral considerations are the tenor of this work; the time that the oratorio was a kind of sacred opera had not come yet.

If one listens to this oratorio, there is every reason to regret that only four of eleven pieces in this genre have survived. The music is indeed entertaining, as Aliotti's above-mentioned contemporary observed. The vocal and instrumental part are excellently written and there is no dull moment. The influence of the declamatory style of the first half of the century is still clearly present, but there are also lyrical episodes, as we find them in operas from the mid-17th century.

The performance leaves nothing to be desired. Etienne Meyer has brought together an outstanding ensemble of singers, each of whom is well versed in the style of the period. Capucine Keller nicely differentiates between the Eve of the first part and the Eve of the second, who expresses her longing for the fruit and to be a god. Renaud Delaigue gives exactly the right weight to the roles of God and Lucifer. The instrumental ensemble is first-class.

In short: this is an important production which deserves the attention of anyone who likes Italian music of the 17th century (but unfortunately the booklet does not include an English translation of the libretto). It is to be hoped that the two oratorios that are not available on disc will be recorded in the near future .

Johan van Veen (© 2024)

Relevant links:

Vincent Bouchot
Paulin Bündgen
Capucine Keller
Anne Magouët
Les Traversées Baroques

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