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Adriano in Siria

G. B. Pergolesi

Alongside Mozart and Schubert, Giovanni Battista Pergolesi has long been a symbol in music history of the tragic figure of genius cut off in its prime. Born in 1710 in the southern Italian city of Jesi, his composing career lasted less than a decade: he was dead from tuberculosis at 26. Though well-known during his lifetime as a composer of serious opera, since then his fame has largely rested on just two works: the wildly popular comic opera La serva padrona (1733) and the Stabat mater, finished shortly before his premature demise. Of that event Charles Burney remarked; “the instant that his death was known, all Italy manifested an eager desire to hear and possess his productions …” - this was not only true of Italy, and led to a considerable, and still persisting industry of attributing to Pergolesi works by other, less famous composers.

Adriano in Siria was the third of his four opere serie, premiered in the Teatro San Bartolomeo in Naples on 25 October 1734. Pergolesi spent almost all of his career in this capital of a kingdom that had for two decades been ruled by the Austrian Habsburgs through a viceroy. However, the Spanish Bourbons also claimed this territory and early in 1734, their army under Carlos, eldest son of the King Felipe V, was on the advance. His forces were victorious and the young prince led a triumphant entry into the city on 10 May. The score is dedicated to the new monarch, but was written expressly to mark the 42nd birthday of his redoubtable and music-loving mother, Elisabetta Farnese. Interestingly the opening scene of Pergolesi’s opera also depicts a victorious army’s entry into a city – one might well wonder what the 18-year-old King Charles made of the emotionally vacillating character of the victorious Emperor Hadrian as then portrayed in Pergolesi’s opera. It was perhaps fortunate for the composer that the young monarch was more fond of hunting than of music, and was well-known for falling asleep during performances. Nonetheless, in homage to the mother he adored and to the opera-mad Naples public (it would after all have been politic to impress his new subjects), the premiere was a lavish one, with a fine cast headed by the great mezzo-soprano castrato Gaetano Majorano, called Caffarelli, playing the role of Farnaspe.
The libretto as set by Pergolesi makes many changes to Metastasio’s original text, largely in response to the demands of his castrato star. Pergolesi’s music for him exploits all facets of his remarkable technique, ranging from long florid melismas with rapidly repeated high notes to tricky cantabile chromaticism. Other well-known singers in the cast included Maria Giustina Turcotti as Emirena, a soprano notorious in her latter days for that common problem of divas, obesity (one colleague described her as “a monster of flesh”). Sabina, the Emperor Hadrian’s long-suffering betrothed, was sung by the later very famous soprano Catterina Fumagalli; though ostensibly a subsidiary role for a seconda donna, her character is remarkably well-drawn. This is indeed true of all the roles in the work, not least since, perhaps in response to the considerable changes in the text made to accommodate Caffarelli, Pergolesi was careful to balance the number of arias between all the characters. Nor was he afraid of bending the strict rules of opera seria for dramatic effect: not always does a character exit after singing an aria, and some of these begin without the customary introductory ritornello. Tenor roles, like that of Osroa, were generally regarded as inferior, but here, originally taken by the well-known singer Francesco Tolve, this is hardly the case. Even the lesser role of the tribune Aquilio, another cross-dressing soprano, has music apt to his scheming character.

The CD Adriano in Siria was recorded in August 2015 in Krakow. See a compilation of video recordings from this event.


CD1_03: Dal labbro che tëaccende (Mynenko)

Adriano in Siria

CD2_03: Ah, ingrato, míinganni (Idrisova)

Adriano in Siria

CD2_08: Splenda per voi sereno (Idrisova)

Adriano in Siria

CD2_12: Tutti nemici e rei (Mynenko)

Adriano in Siria

CD2_16: Leon piagato a morte (Sancho)

Adriano in Siria

CD3_10: Ti perdi e confondi (Sancho)

Adriano in Siria

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17 09 2016
Adriano in Siria
Adriano in Siria


Farnaspe: Franco Fagioli*
Emirena: Romina Basso*
Adriano Yuriy Mynenko* | Artem Krutko
Sabina: Dilyara Idrisova*
Osroa: Juan Sancho*
Aquilio: Cigdem Soyarslan* | Sofia Fomina | Keri Fuge

Conductor: Jan Tomasz Adamus*
Orchestra: Capella Cracoviensis*