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Hasse: La Contadina, intermezzi in musica; Mascitti: Concerto a 6 stromenti in G, op. 7,3

Graciela Oddone (Scintilla), soprano; Lorenzo Regazzo (Don Tabarano), bass-baritone
Ensemble Arcadia
Dir: Attilio Cremonesi
rec: Nov. 1998, Zürich, Schweizer radio DRS2
Harmonia mundi - HMC 905244 (70'28")

Most intermezzi have the same subject: an old man falls in love with a young girl, who sees an opportunity to push the old fool around or to get rich. This intermezzo isn't different. Let me first give the synopsis as it is in the booklet.

Intermezzo primo: The wealthy, dandyish farmer Don Tabarano and his recalcitrant, mute servant Corbo meet the peasant-girl Scintilla in the garden. For Tabarano it is love at first sight. He asserts his love to her in monologues in which the high-flown metaphors uneeringly lead to erotic allusions. Scintilla senses a chance to reap financial gain. She claims that her whole fortune was stolen by thieves the previous night. Tabarano, appalled, offers her full restitution from his own pocket. With the promise of her love, she relieves him of his money and valuables so that she can flee with her lover Lucindo. Carbo sees through her game, yet cannot protect his master from his own foolishness. When Scintilla also demands the house and the farm, but at the same time refusing to give Tabarano proof of her love, he, too, becomes suspicious.
Intermezzo secondo: Tabarano, Corbo, and other helpers are disguised as Turkish pirates. They seize Scintilla and Lucindo just as the couple is about to board ship. Tabarano threatens them, in a gibberish of Turkish and Neapolitan dialect, with enslavement and death. Scintilla offers a deal for their freedom: She will lead the pirates to a rich farmer - Tabarano - from whom they can extort a lot of money and possessions. Tabarano, still in disguise, questions Scintilla about her relationship to this man and learns that in reality she doesn't love him. Tabarano then discloses his identity and threatens to turn her over to the authorities. After she learns that Lucindo has flown and left her sitting, she finally assents - not entirely of her own free will - to a liaison with Tabarano, who is overjoyed at having her, through her own doing, 'under control'. Both dance as the piece comes to an end.

Hasse composed this work in 1728; it was staged in the Teatro S. Bartolomeo in Naples as entr'acte for the opera Clitarco by Pietro Scarlatti. Between 1728 and 1769 the work was staged at least 38 times in major European opera houses. The similarity of the title with Pergolesi's intermezzo La Contadina Astuta resulted in attributions of Hasse's work to Pergolesi. Hasse's music is in many ways 'modern'. It is relatively simple: the strings often play unisono with each other or with the singer. The ideal was for the music to be simple and to follow the text as flexibly as possible. In addition to the intermezzo a 6-part concerto grosso by Michelle Mascitti from 1727 has been recorded, but composed in the style of Corelli. That is interesting, since it shows how far Hasse has gone from the then still dominant style of composing.

Scintilla is sung by the soprano Graciela Oddone, born in Buenos Aires; she has a broad repertoire from baroque to the 20th century. She has sung in Monteverdi's Orfeo, Alessandro Scarlatti's Il primo omicidio and Mozarts Cosě fan tutte under René Jacobs. The role of Tabarano is sung by the bass-baritone Lorenzo Regazzo, born in Venice, who is also involved in baroque as well as contemporary music. He has worked with René Jacobs and Marc Minkowski.
The orchestra is the Ensemble Arcadia, directed by Attilio Cremonesi. It consists of 8 violins, 2 violas, 2 cellos, double bass, 2 horns and 2 harpsichords.

The problem with an intermezzo is that the acting is far more important than the music. There are hardly any virtuoso arias like in the opera seria. The humorous character is very difficult to communicate without seeing anything. Therefore the singers have to do everything they can to make it convincing. In that respect I am somewhat disappointed by this recording. The piece begins with an aria of Tabarano, in which he makes a fool of himself by admiring his looks in the mirror and his own dancing abilities. I think that a singer can do more with this text than Lorenzo Regazzo does. It says: Alla vita, al portamento sembro giusto un ballarino. Ha, ha, ta, ra, la, questo vezzo, quest'inchino č un incanto! uno spavento! Ah, che passo di minuč! (From my waist, from my deportment I really look like a dancer: Ha, ha, ta, ra, la, This grace: this bow; it's a delight! it's a fright! Ah, what a minuet step!) I can only imagine what singers like Michael Schopper (brilliant in Telemann's Pimpinone or (as Sancho Pansa) in Don Quichotte) or David Thomas would do with such a piece! In the second part, where he sings in disguise as a Turkish pirate, he is far more convincing. But even there something is missing.
Graciela Oddone is slightly better in her characterisation of Scintilla. At the start I had some problems with her voice but I got used to it, although is certainly not my first choice for baroque music.
The orchestra sounds rather thin - and it is very vulnerable since a lot of the music is played unisono. The intonation is not impeccable and the sound sometimes a little unpolished.

This is certainly an interesting recording, in particular because it shows how Hasse in his early days already moved in a new direction and turned to a new musical language. It shows how large the distance is between Hasse and his contemporaries Bach and Handel. But unfortunately the fun of this piece doesn't quite come across.

Johan van Veen (© 1999)

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