Pergolesi’s penultimate opera arrives on DVD in a 2011 production from Jesi, his Adriatic coastal birthplace. Musically, it proves an astonishingly vital, stirring experience, and prompts the following thoughts: the composer’s 1736 death at the age of only 26 was one of the lyric theatre’s greatest ever losses; and – as L’olimpiade (1735) resoundingly demonstrates in its later Acts – he had already become an Italian serious-opera innovator in a way that could have influenced the whole course of its 18th-century development.
Pergolesi’s posthumous fame and historical importance were sustained by his buffa one-acters, notably La serva padrona, and by his Stabat mater. Here, however, thanks to the inspired advocacy of Alessandro de Marchi and his superb Accademia Montis Regalis, one quickly appreciates the composer’s widened dramatic range and command of an Italianate gift for lyrical characterisation. In setting a two-year-old Metastasio libretto previously used by Caldara, Pergolesi bends rules and forms to heighten the intensity of a drama of hidden identities, torn loyalties and conflicted emotions.
Its early stages seem relatively bland, though. Perhaps the fault lies with Italo Nunziata’s in-the-round production, which persistently confuses the action by dressing the principals alike and inserting a troupe of masked figurants. Once you have adjusted to such irritations, the power of the work takes hold. Likewise the authority and unstinting involvement of Jesi’s predominantly youthful cast, of whom the brilliant Russian soprano Lyubov Petrova, impassioned American mezzo-soprano Jennifer Rivera and wonderfully rich-toned Italian contralto Milena Storti are the outstanding members.