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LABELS: Decca L’Oiseau-Lyre
WORKS: Antigona
PERFORMER: Maria Bayo, Anna Maria Panzarella, Carlo Vincenzo Allemano, Laura Polverelli, Gilles Ragon; Accentus Chamber Choir, Les Talens Lyriques/Christophe Rousset
CATALOGUE NO: 460 204-2
Tommaso Traetta (1727-79) was particularly admired in his lifetime for his fusion of Italian opera seria with French tragédie lyrique. And his acknowledged masterpiece in this genre is Antigona (1772), to a libretto that tempers the implacable harshness of Sophocles with the humane spirit of the Enlightenment. From the opening scene, with its fluid intermingling of chorus, solo and ballet, Traetta repeatedly subverts the norms of opera seria. There are few extended arias, virtuosity is at a premium and solos are always likely to burgeon into duets or choruses, often with striking dramatic effect. Gluck and, more distantly, Rameau are obvious models, especially in the poignant extended scene for Antigone and her companions that opens Act II. Two salient features of the score are the rich scoring for woodwind (including clarinets) and the searching accompanied recitatives. Traetta can’t quite match Gluck’s stark classical simplicity, and his dramatic sense can falter, especially in the perfunctory denouement. But at its finest, Antigona is a noble and moving work that should come as a revelation to many lovers of 18th-century opera. Under Christophe Rousset, the performance – based on concerts at the Beaune Festival – exudes the excitement of first discovery, with vivid choral and orchestral contributions and intensely characterful solo singing, above all from Maria Bayo as a vulnerably youthful Antigone and Anna Maria Panzarella as her sweet-toned sister Ismene. Richard Wigmore