WORKS: Il Sant’ Alessio
PERFORMER: Maryseult Wieczorek, Nicolas Rivenq, Christopher Josey, Patricia Petibon; Les Arts Florissants/William Christie
CATALOGUE NO: 0630-14340-2
With the recently reported rise in the number of officially registered hermits, what could be more timely than this splendid recording of Stefano Landi’s seminal dramma musicale on the life of St Alexis? As if to demonstrate that truth can be more improbable than any opera plot, he apparently lived incognito for 17 years beneath the stairwell of his father’s palace. And what could be more pleasing than to discover that what looks fairly uninspiring on the printed page turns out to be as dramatically viable today as it must have seemed to its first Roman audience in 1632?
With sure theatrical instincts, Landi presents a sequence of tableaux alternating the first-hand depiction of Alexis’s spiritual development with the bemused reactions of his nearest and dearest. The highpoint comes in the second act, where St Alexis is unsuccessfully tempted by the Devil who, with a fearsome-sounding regal for support, soars and plummets with Miltonian relish. If the third act seems something of an appendage, it’s certainly needed to help us forget that the Devil does indeed have all the best tunes; and Religion’s final words of comfort provide the much needed release of dramatic tension built up with impressive, Monteverdian mastery throughout the opera.
As with all Baroque vocal music, the performers’ input is every bit as important as the composer’s. But, as ever, Christie and his team, not least his vividly responsive continuo group, prove more than trustworthy custodians of yet another work previously known only by repute. Antony Bye