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Giovanni Bononcini: La nemica d'Amore fatta amante.
25 Aug 2005

BONONCINI: La nemica d’Amore fatta amante

Giovanni Bononcini (Modena, 1670 - Vienna, 1747) is best known today for his dozen years in London, which began when he was 50 and Handel was 35. Five years later, a well-known epigram likened them to Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee . Londoners then had to decide whether Handel, compared to Bononcini, was "but a Ninny," or whether Bononcini, when matched with Handel, was "scarcely fit to hold a Candle." For many Londoners, the more luminous composer was Bononcini, since he had served munificent patrons for four decades before his arrival in England: duke Francesco II of Modena (1680s); two immensely wealthy noblemen - Filippo Colonna and Luigi de la Cerda, the Spanish ambassador - in Rome (1690s); two emperors - Leopold I and Joseph I - in Vienna (1700s); and an immensely wealthy Viennese ambassador in Rome (1710s).

Giovanni Bononcini: La nemica d'Amore fatta amante.
Serenata for 3 voices

Clori (Adriana Fernandez, soprano), Tirsi (Martin Oro, countertenor) and Fileno (Furio Zanasi, baritone), with Ensemble 415, directed by Chiara Banchini (solo violin).

Zig-Zag Territoires ZZT030801 [CD]


Bononcini established his fame in the 1690s by composing more than 200 solo cantatas, which were frequently recopied and spread his fame abroad; 6 serenatas, each of which had 3 or 4 characters; the final (most prestigious) act for 3 operas; and 4 complete operas, including the most successful opera of the decades around 1700 (Camilla) and the opera that Handel was to refashion into one of his most delightful works (Xerxes). During the month of August, at least a dozen Roman patrons - cardinals as well as noblemen - sponsored serenatas, which were performed on their balconies or on stages constructed outside of their palaces. For August 1692, at the end of Bononcini's first year in Rome, he and the Roman librettist Silvio Stampiglia wrote their first serenata, La nemica d'Amore. "The enemy of Love" was Clori, who rejected Tirsi's, then Fileno's attempts to woo her, because she refused to relinquish her highly prized liberty. Its complete score does not survive, but one copy of the libretto is extant. In it, as in the libretto for La nemica d'Amore fatta amante, the dedication is to Lorenza, the sister of Luigi and wife of Filippo, and it is signed "Giovanni Bononcini". His dedications request a favorable reception for the "poor shepherdess [Clori], who developed her skills within the rustic woods" ("povera pastorella, nudrita fra la semplicita delle selve"). Such pastoral contexts were highly favored, since they embodied the ideals of the Arcadian Academy, which had been founded at Rome in 1690; and its members included Silvio Stampiglia, Filippo Colonna and Luigi de la Cerda. The dedication of course has a double meaning, because Bononcini was a "rustic" (non-Roman), who was requesting a favorable reception in the eternal city.

In the August 1693 sequel, which has now been "embodied" by Ensemble 415, Clori ends her opening recitative by declaring that she, "the enemy of love, has became a lover." Although neither booklet acknowledges it, the performance materials (and the relevant liner notes) are based on the facsimile editions of the printed libretto in the Vatican Library and the manuscript score in the Library of Congress, which were published in Cantatas by Giovanni Bononcini, selected and introduced by Lowell Lindgren (New York, 1985). The other extant score, which has the arms of the Colonna family on its binding, is in the Santini Collection of the Dioezesanbibliothek in Muenster, Germany. Both scores were apparently copied at Rome in 1693.

The essence of Stampiglia's drama is brought forth by Bononcini's music, which is marvelously conveyed by the Ensemble 415 rendition. In its opening minutes, we are taken to a pastoral world, where time stands still: the archlute improvises dreamily for a while before the ensemble plays Bononcini's first chord, then the solo violin expands freely upon the "solo" motive placed between his opening chords, and the ensemble stresses Bononcini's affective chromaticisms and minor seconds (the "Neapolitan" degree). These delectable, yet sorrowful harmonic effects continue during Clori's opening recitative, which is accompanied only by the 5 violins and 2 violas in Ensemble 415. The other 6 players, which form the continuo contingent, are 2 cellos and 1 each of contrabass, archlute, theorbo and keyboards (namely, a copy of a 17th century cembalo and a positif organ). In most Italian dramatic works of 1693, the treble instruments of the orchestra would be utilized infrequently. The opposite is true in this work, since they play during the sinfonia, 8 arias, 1 recitative, and the ritornellos that end 7 arias. They are silent only during the two duets. Near the end of the serenata, two arias with orchestral ritornellos are accompanied by a soloist. One is a violinist (Chiara Banchini), who represents some incredibly virtuosic cooings of a turtle-dove, and the other is a cellist (Gaetano Nasillo), who mirrors and thus intensifies Tirsi's musings upon Clori's love for him. In the arias, Nasillo and a singer engage in contrapuntal duets, which he plays adroitly. He is thus an apt successor to the composer, who was renowned as a cellist, and played these parts in 1693. In the recitatives, there are many deft changes of instrumentation and expressive uses of rubato, which were presumably managed by Andrea Marchiol, who edited the score, coached the singers and played the keyboard continuo instruments. For example, the recitative before the Tirsi / Clori duet utilizes three different instrumental groups before the organ alone is utilized for "I languish / And I am dying." Equally effective is the recitative after Fileno's final aria. In order to break the spell of his invective-laden text, the continuo instruments improvise (that is, add to the written score) several statements of a stepwise descending bass pattern, then boldly accompany Clori and Tirsi's declarations of love, then let the organ alone accompany the words concerning marriage.

Clori (Adriana Fernandez, soprano) is the fascinating focus of the work. She magisterially sings 7 arias (and the conclusion of an 8th), 2 duets and 1 accompanied recitative, while Tirsi (Martin Oro, alto countertenor), whom she loves, sings only 4 arias and 1 duet, and Fileno (Furio Zanasi, baritone), whom she repeatedly repels, has only 3 arias and 1 duet. She captures every nuance of the great expressive range of her part, as she cogently conveys or wistfully whispers her grief, sensuously sings of her love for Tirsi, or adamantly proclaims her distaste for Fileno (by even interrupting and continuing one of his arias). She and her Buenos Aires compatriot, Martin Oro, add ornamentation judiciously, but hers have a magical, floating quality, while his are executed quite rapidly. His arias are all moderately slow, and he effectively conveys the dramatic function of each one. At the beginning his vocal production is markedly strident, because he does not believe Clori's avowals of love; afterwards it is increasingly tender, most notably in the flowing aria accompanied by a solo cello. Furio Zanasi sings his rapidly paced arias potently. He enters furiously, and jealous outbursts continue to intrude until he angrily departs with an invective-filled aria. He and Martin Oro are thus at opposite poles in terms of their roles and vocal production.

When this serenata was new, a reporter related that a "most sumptuous" ("suntuosissima") serenata had been performed on the night of San Lorenzo [10 August 1693] in the courtyard of Filippo Colonna, who thus honored his wife Lorenza. "Qui concorse tutta Roma." ("Here congregated all of Rome.") In 2003, when the serenata was 310 years old, the work was given a "most sumptuous" recording by Ensemble 415. It belongs in the collections of all who enjoy renditions of melodically, harmonically and texturally rich works composed near the end of the splendid seventeenth century.

Lowell E. Lindgren, Ph.D.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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