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Camilla DE ROSSI (fl c1707-1710): Santa Beatrice d'Este, oratorio in 2 parts

Graciela Oddone (Santa Beatrice d'Este), soprano; Denis Lakey (Angelo, Santa Giuliana), alto; Makoto Sakurada (Consigliero), tenor; Lisandro Abadie (Ezzellino), bass
Musica Fiorita
Dir: Daniela Dolci

rec: May 2007, Binningen, Katholische Kirche Heilig Kreuz
ORF - CD 3092 (© 2010) (77'49")

Henry Moderlak, Mike Di Prose, trumpet; Hiram Santos, timpani; Miki Takahashi, Johannes Frisch, violin; Michelle Party, viola; Bernhard Maurer, cello; Cecilia Knudtsen, violone; Margit ‹bellacker, psaltery; Rafael Bonavita, Juan Sebastian Lima, theorbo; Daniela Dolci, harpsichord, organ

As far as we know Arcangelo Corelli has never written any vocal music. Within his oeuvre just one piece has at least some connection to vocal music. In 1689 the oratorio San Beatrice d'Este by Giovanni Lorenzo Lulier (c1662-1700) had its premiere in the palace of Cardinal Benedetto Pamphili, who himself had written the libretto. For his oratorio Corelli composed the sinfonia, as an overture was usually called. It is possible that a certain Camilla de Rossi has heard this performance and it may have inspired her to set the libretto herself. Her oratorio was performed in Vienna in 1707.

The problem is that we know absolutely nothing about her. As she added 'Romana' to her name one may assume she was from Rome, and that is the reason it is thought she may have attended the performance of Lulier's oratorio. How and when she came in Vienna, nobody knows. The most curious thing is that she has written four oratorios which were all performed in Vienna. According to newspaper reports those performances were attended by the emperor Joseph I. It is assumed he even commissioned them himself. One of the singers in these performances was nobody else than the castrato Gaetano Orsini who later would regularly appear in operas by Antonio Caldara who was appointed first court composer in 1716.

All these things considered it is very surprising that not a single trace of Camilla de Rossi's presence and activities can be found, despite extensive research. An interesting find was a record of a musician with the name of Francesco de Rossi who died in 1703 and was at the service of Joseph I before he became emperor in 1705. There is no firm evidence of a connection to Camilla, but it is tempting to think he could have been her father, her brother or her husband. But otherwise her life and musical activities remain a mystery.

San Beatrice d'Este is the first of the four oratorios by Camilla de Rossi. Beatrice was a martyr from the early 13th century about whom I found this information. "She belonged to the family of the Norman Dukes of Apulia and was herself the daughter of the Marquess of Ferrara. She was betrothed to Galeazzo Manfredi of Vicenza, but he died of his wounds, after a battle, just before the wedding day, and his bride refused to return home, but attended by some of her maidens, devoted herself to the service of God, following the Benedictine Rule, at San Lazzaro just outside Ferrara. Her cultus was approved by Clement XIV, and Pius VI allowed her festival to be kept on January 19." ( In the oratorio she has to deal with the pressure of Ezzellino who is after her and who declares war on her country when she refuses to give in. In her last aria Beatrice expresses her devotion to God: "Every emotion is impure to one who is entirely dedicated to God. Every ill will be a joy. Anyone who pierces my breast will wound me but not my heart which, born on the wings of faith, already rests secure in God".

The oratorio is in two parts, which both begin with a sinfonia. The first of them contains some strong dissonances which bear witness to De Rossi's dramatic talent. The instrumental scoring is for two violins, viola and bc, with two trumpets and timpani in some warlike passages. This work moves between the tradition of the 17th and the new developments of the 18th century. There are strophic arias, but also dacapo arias. Most arias are with basso continuo only, with ritornellos for strings, but there are also some arias in which the strings accompany the singer. Some arias have an instrumental solo part, in particular for violin and cello, and in one aria even the theorbo has a solo part. In addition to the arias there are a couple of duets, and the oratorio closes with a short chorus.

I am impressed by the quality of this oratorio which is in no way inferior to oratorios by more famous composers of the time. Recitatives and arias are very well written and the instrumental parts are also of fine quality. On the whole the performance is rather good, although some issues in regard to style have to be raised. The soloists give good accounts of their roles. Graciela Oddone has the title role, which is by far the largest part. She sings it beautifully and stylistically convincing. But the text is often hard to understand. Her diction could have been better, although this problem is also due to the large reverberation. I don't understand why ensembles - or record companies - stick to churches as recording venues which are not very suitable for some repertoire, and certainly a work like this oratorio. Denis Lakey has a nice voice, but uses a wide vibrato which is not pleasant and stylistically inappropriate. In his recitatives he takes the right amount of rhythmic freedom. But his voice isn't very strong, and in a duet with Ms Oddone he is overshadowed. That is also the case when in one of his arias he is accompanied by strings. Makoto Sakurada has a much stronger voice and is singing well, but could have been more speech-like, with stronger dynamic differentation. Lisandro Abbadie gives a fine account of the role of bad boy Ezzelino, but could have been more free in his recitatives.

Now and then some of the drama is missing. That is in particular the case when halfway the first part trumpets and timpani enter with a ritornello, and the Consigliero says that "the noisy clash of arms heralds the enemy's approach". This should have been much more dramatic. The instrumental parts are very well executed, with particular good performances of the instrumental soli. Towards the end a psaltery turns up. I wonder if this is required in the score. I guess it is not - it would be very remarkable, and I can't remember any composition of this kind with a part specifically given to the psaltery. Nothing about that is written in the liner-notes.

All in all, this is not the ideal performance, but it has enough qualities to convince the sceptical listener that Camilla de Rossi is a composer to take seriously. I am curious about her other oratorios, and it would be nice if these were to be recorded in the forseeable future.

Johan van Veen (© 2011)

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