ANTONIO SALIERI: Il mondo alla rovescia – Maria Laura Martorana, soprano (La Marchesa) / Marco Filippo Romano, bass (La Generala) / Patrizia Cigna, soprano (La Colonella) / Rosa Bove, soprano (L’Aiutanta Maggiore) / Emanuele D’Aguanno, tenor (Amaranto); Krystian Adam, tenor (Girasole) / Maurizio Lo Piccolo, bass (Il Conte) / Gianpiero Ruggi, baritone (Il Vomandante and Il Gran Colombo) / Orchestra and Chorus of the Arena di Verona / Federico Maria Sardelli – Dynamic CDS 655/1-2 (2 discs), 76:21; 62:47 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:
“Forget F. Murray Abraham,” the notes to the present recording enjoin us, and I say, “Hear, hear!” Actually, as the notes further suggest, Abraham’s portrayal of the composer in Milos Forman’s Amadeus did the music-loving public a great if ironic service in generating curiosity about Antonio Salieri. In the film, he proclaims himself the champion and patron saint of mediocrities. Since then several distinguished recordings have brought Salieri’s music to light, and surprise! he’s far from a mediocrity, even if he’s no Mozart either. This recording of the opera 1795 buffa Il mondo alla rovescia (“The World Turned Upside Down”) should add further luster to Salieri’s image.
The libretto by Caterino Mazzolà is based on an earlier libretto by one of the pioneers of opera buffa, Carlo Goldoni. Mazzolà apparently updated it a bit with some heavy-handed jabs at the clergy in the person of Il Gran Colombo, “The High Pigeon,” and his monastic order of Chaste Pigeons. Racier, however, is the reversal of the roles of the sexes in the play. It takes place on an island where a group of European women, fed up with being subservient to men, have repaired to place themselves, er, on top of the social order. On this island women not only rule the roost but even pay court to men rather than the other way round. This causes La Marchesa a great deal of consternation when she and Il Conte are shipwrecked on the island and he instantly becomes the love object of two of the island’s military leaders, La Generala and La Colonella, while she is universally ignored. Il Conte, however, likes the arrangement since he was the proud Marchesa’s suitor back in Europe, only to be rebuffed by her. The chief drawback for Il Conte is that he can’t shake the love-struck Generala, an old woman sung by a bass en travesti. As La Generala, Marco Filippo Romano seems to have a great deal of fun, as do all the cast.
Of course as with many comic operas, the libretto is pretty silly, the most flat-footed scenes being those involving the Chaste Pigeons, to whose retreat Il Conte is banished by La Generala for two-timing her. Probably, in a well-done production, these scenes wouldn’t seem as leaden as they do on the printed page. And anyway, Salieri’s music is much better than his material.
But to return for a moment to the plot: it turns out well for all concerned except the pompous Generala. A European ship lands on the island, and the captain of the vessel declares war on the islanders unless they turn Il Conte and La Marchesa over to him. But Il Conte manages to avert war by offering to stay on the island. La Marchesa, who has fallen in love with the Generala’s nephew Amaranto, will return with him to Europe; whereas Il Conte likes all the attention he’s gotten on the island, Amaranto is tired of being a supernumerary in a world ruled by women, and Europe sounds pretty good to him. Once again, though, Il Conte hoodwinks La Generala, who had hoped to make him her husband. Instead, he pledges his love to her rival La Colonella, and La Generala grudgingly accedes to his wishes.
Except for the role-reversal bit, this is typical comic-opera fare, but Salieri’s music is anything but routine. There are lots of plums, as far as I’m concerned, among them La Colonella’s martial aria “A trionfar mi chiama” (“I am called to triumph”), with its trumpet flourishes and showy cadenza; her love song “Aura che intorno spiri” (“Gentle breeze, bring my sighs”), where a purling flute mimics soft breezes; and Amaranto’s angry aria “Non temer ch’io sdegnato” (“Fear not that I may be outraged”). The duets and ensembles are always skillful and entertaining, such as the spirited duet for Il Conte and La Generala “Alle nozze questa sera” (“At our wedding this evening”).
At least one aria should be in the repertory of every coloratura soprano, La Marchesa’s “Quando più irato freme” (“When the sea grows rough”). With its dazzling solo for oboe, it’s a stunner from beginning to end. Both Maria Laura Martorana and the uncredited oboist have difficulties with it, not surprising in a live recording, but what is surprising is how strong the performances are across the board. Special praise to Patrizia Cigna for her lovely singing and to Marco Romano for his comic turn as La Generala, but really the whole cast is praiseworthy.
Federico Maria Sardelli’s conducting is quite lively, and the orchestra responds with spirited playing that may not, perhaps, be the last word in tidiness, but I’ll take excitement over polish any day. The live recording has the usual vicissitudes associated with the practice: balances aren’t perfect, and the violins often seem scrunched up in the left speaker. Also, the stage noises, and especially the ruffling of pages (one mike seems to be near the conductor’s podium), get to be wearing after a while. There’s distortion in one or two numbers as well. But for the most part the singing is well captured by the engineers; on balance, the recording is more than adequate. Certainly, it shouldn’t keep you from hearing this delightful sample of Salieri’s art, which I highly recommend.
– Lee Passarella