|About this Recording
8.573554-55 - CARVALHO, J. de S.: Angelica (L') [Serenata per musica] (Seara, L.V. Curtis, Guimarães, Tavares, Medeiros, Concerto Campestre, Castro)
João de Sousa Carvalho (1745–1798)
Serenata per musica da cantarsi in two parts (1778)
WORLD PREMIÈRE RECORDING
Angelica, a beautiful eastern princess – Joana Seara, Soprano
Concerto Campestre (on period instruments)
Performing edition by Pedro Castro (2008) based on a manuscript found in the Biblioteca do Palacio Nacional da Ajuda, Lisbon
“No royal house in Europe was then so musical as that of Portugal”—so declared Nathaniel Wraxall in his Historical Memoirs of My Own Time (published in 1815, although he was writing about a visit made to the country in 1772). He went on, “Joseph himself [José I] performed with considerable execution on the violin; and the three Princesses, his daughters, all were proficient in a greater, or in a less degree, on different instruments.” José’s eldest daughter eventually succeeded him, ruling as Maria I, and her reign saw fewer large-scale public opera productions but a greater number of musical dramas staged in the royal palaces on the birthdays and name days of senior members of the royal family. Generally speaking, the plots of these dramas revolved around heroic feats performed by the rulers of Antiquity, and featured a protagonist who mirrored the virtue and nobility of sentiment of the modern royal in question. In a way, therefore, the choice of this particular libretto may seem surprising, in that it tells how the beautiful Angelica uses her seductive charms to fool the noble Orlando into thinking she loves him, only to abandon him and run away with Medoro instead.
We need to bear in mind, however, that the dedicatee of this particular work, Princess Maria Francisca Benedita, the sister of the queen—and, according to contemporary accounts, “fairer and more gifted in the arts” than her sibling—had recently become the heir to the throne and was therefore being trained in ethics and morality by the monarch. In the story of Angelica, all goes to plan and the princess gets what she wants, but the consequences of her actions are serious and unjust. Aware of her sister’s attributes and abilities, the queen perhaps wanted to convey to her that the gifts of beauty and intelligence should be used in an appropriate and morally acceptable manner. Adding a touch of subtlety to the relationship between the fictional heroine and the real princess is the slightly unexpected plot twist when Orlando, driven mad by jealousy, remonstrates with the gods and the stars. Just when all seems lost, he sees a “benign” star, foretelling the birth of a noble and virtuous princess, leading him to sing the serenata’s licenza, or dedicatory piece, at the end of which the rest of the soloists join in a final chorus of praise.
The composer of L’Angelica, João de Sousa Carvalho, had recently taken over from David Perez as music master to the royal princesses, and this was his first opportunity to write a courtly drama, setting a text by the great Italian librettist and poet Metastasio. His ability to bring out the characters’ emotions in the accompanied recitatives, his skill at incorporating ornaments and variations in the repeated sections of arias, the dramatic intensity of the duet that brings Part One to an end, and the subtlety of expression in Medoro’s second aria clearly captivated the ears and hearts of the House of Braganza, whose demanding and sophisticated taste in music was well known. Indeed, so impressed was the queen that she sent several of Carvalho’s scores to the Spanish court in Madrid and continued to trust him with the responsibility of composing music for key royal occasions, commissions that resulted in the creation of the most significant stage works of her reign, such as the “favola pastorale” Nettuno ed Egle (1785).
Metastasio’s libretto, first set in 1720 by Nicola Porpora, is one of his many smaller-scale works and one of the few originally dubbed a “serenata”—rather than the more common “dramma per musica”—by the poet himself. The reason for this distinction is not obvious in stylistic terms, or even in terms of the type of characters—the serenatas of Alessandro Scarlatti tended to be peopled by allegorical figures whose function was to honour an individual or celebrate some important event. The most obvious reason for L’Angelica to be classified as such is poetic in origin and can be found within the plot itself, part of which unfolds during the night on which the lovers take flight. As they run, a glimmer of moonlight illumines their path, and Medoro, in gratitude, sings the aria Bella Diva all’ombre amica to the moon, just as a lover would sing a serenade beneath his lady’s window.
When serenatas were performed at court in the days of Maria I, the soloists were accompanied by an orchestra of around thirty-five musicians, who were positioned just a few yards from the royal family in a room in the Queluz or the Ajuda Palace. The festive atmosphere was added to by the presence of courtiers and distinguished guests—the ladies of the court would have sat on the floor, while everyone else remained standing, in what ever space they could find, in relative informality. Because such works were not designed for one of the court theatres, there were no sets or costumes, but given that they were dramatic pieces, with various scene changes and plenty of implied physical action, it is easy to imagine that the singers did act out their parts. The music itself is composed in such a way as to give the characters time to move and incorporates different groupings of singers, in a score that is rich, expressive and highly dramatically effective.
About the composer
João de Sousa Carvalho was born in Estremoz in 1745 and died in Lisbon in 1798. He began his musical studies in Vila Viçosa on 23rd October 1753, later continuing his education at Lisbon’s Real Seminário de Música da Patriarcal. Then, at the age of fifteen, on 15th January 1761, he entered the Conservatorio di San Onofrio in Naples, having been awarded a grant by José I, along with brothers Jerónimo Francisco and Brás Francisco de Lima and a number of other Portuguese musicians.
In 1766, his opera La Nitteti, which set a libretto by Metastasio, was staged in Rome. The following year, Carvalho returned to Portugal and joined the Fraternity of Saint Cecilia in Lisbon. He then began teaching counterpoint at the Seminário da Patriarcal, where his pupils included António Leal Moreira and Marcos Portugal. In 1778 he succeeded David Perez as court composer and music teacher to the Portuguese royal family. From this point onwards he regularly produced serenatas to mark royal birthdays and other court celebrations.
Several musicologists (Sampayo Ribeiro 1938, Santos Luís 1999, Stevenson/Brito 2012) agree that Carvalho was the most important Portuguese composer of his generation. Of the ten operas written by Portuguese composers at the time he was active, four are attributed to him, while ten of the thirty-six serenatas produced during the reign of Maria I were composed by him.
In the latter third of the eighteenth century, the Director of the Royal Theatres in Portugal was a man called Pinto da Silva. In a letter of 1783 to the Portuguese ambassador in Italy, whose duties included recruiting artists to appear in Portugal, he bemoans the growing difficulty of finding Italian singers good enough to please the ears of the royal family, but also states that “there is at present no composer to match our own João de Sousa Carvalho”, adding that both the latter and his pupil António Leal Moreira had recently composed excellent serenatas.
Angelica comes to the cave in which Medoro is hiding and invites him to come out into the daylight (). He appears and she checks that the only wounds that still need treating are those of the heart, not the flesh (). To assure him of her love, she sings the aria Mentre rendo a te la vita (), before leaving to gather more medicinal herbs (). Left alone, Medoro falls prey to the torments of jealousy, which strike whenever he is parted from her, as expressed in his aria Terrore m’inspira (). The scene changes, and Licori appears, in search of her beloved Tirsi (). She asks the plants and shadows of the forest to tell her where he may be (Ombre amene, ). He then appears and swears his love to the shepherdess. ()They are interrupted by the inopportune arrival of Orlando, in pursuit of a warrior named Mandricardo. Neither of them has seen him, but Licori invites Orlando to rest in her humble home. Medoro, meanwhile, is still lamenting at being parted from his beloved, when he sees her returning to him, much to his delight (). In the distance, they see a soldier, whom Angelica recognises as Orlando. She urges Medoro to hide, explaining that she will fool his rival with a false declaration of love. Orlando arrives, with Licori, and Angelica convinces him of her love, eventually taking her leave of him saying that she is going to bathe in the river but will come and find him again later. () Orlando fantasises about this in the aria Vanne, vanne felice rio, and then goes on his way. () Angelica is reunited with a now offended and mistrustful Medoro, who found the scene he has just witnessed rather too believable. The lovers’ quarrel continues but is finally resolved in the duet Ah, non dirmi. ()
Licori agrees to help Angelica escape from Orlando by flirting with him and thereby distracting him (). When Orlando appears, she therefore turns on her feminine charms, but as he leaves, she spots Tirsi who, unnoticed, has overheard everything and is furious at her betrayal. Unlike Angelica and Medoro, they are not reconciled, and the shepherd bitterly sings Il tuo pianto () before departing. Angelica comes to say goodbye to Licori, her friend and confidante (). She advises her not to take her recent lovers’ tiff too seriously, and gives her a gold bracelet. In the aria Non curo del Fato (–), Licori reflects that she prefers an untroubled heart and the beauties of the meadow and its simple flowers to the glitter of gold. () Tirsi tells Orlando that Angelica and Medoro love one another, proving it by showing him the words carved on many a tree in the forest. Licori makes another desperate, and vain, attempt at reconciliation with her beloved. Angelica urges her lover to flee Orlando’s fury. When he realises that its light will help them on their way, Medoro sings an aria to the moon: Bella Diva all’ombre amica (). Angelica then bids farewell to the cave () that has been their love nest: Io dico all’antro addio (–). Orlando enters the lovers’ hiding place and is so overwhelmed by jealousy () that he loses his mind and rails against the gods and the stars in the aria Da me che volete (). Suddenly, however, he sees a “benign” star (), which reveals the virtues of the princess whose birthday it is and leads him to sing her p raises, a task in which he is joined by the rest of the singers in the final chorus ().
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