Pergolesi: La Salustia
Pergolesi’s first opera written for a public theatre, La Salustia hit the buffers even before its first performance in 1732, when the eminent castrato intended to sing the crucial role of Marziano suddenly died. Another junior castrato was drafted in, but since he could not be given a major assignment his colleagues were shunted around, necessitating substantial rewriting on the 21-year-old composer’s part. The opera had little success. The festival now regularly held in Pergolesi’s honour in his native town of Jesi in central-east Italy staged the first version in 2008; in the production here, presented in 2011, they offer the second.
The subject explores a fictionalised version of events during the reign of the Roman Emperor Alessandro Severo. The action revolves around the bitter rivalry between Alessandro’s wife, Salustia, and his mother, Giulia, who tricks him into disowning and dethroning her daughter-in-law, and then replaces her as Empress; Salustia’s father Marziano responds by setting up a sequence of plots to kill Giulia, which Salustia nobly frustrates; that all nevertheless ends sort-of happily clearly represents the triumph of hope over experience.
But director Juliette Deschamps’s production is clear and visually handsome, with Vanessa Sannino’s 18th-century costumes registering particularly vividly on Blu-ray. Shining vocally brightly are mezzo-soprano Laura Polverelli as the scheming Giulia, mezzo Serena Malfi as the victimised Salustia and baritone Vittorio Prato as Marziano, his paternal revenge on Salustia’s behalf thrillingly represented in his vigorous vocalism. Corrado Rovaris conducts with alacrity. This is an important, wide-ranging score, already demonstrating Pergolesi’s genius, and Jesi’s impressive revival allows him belated vindication.