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ClassicsOnline Home » SARRI / GASPARINI / BONONCINI: Italian Intermezzi
The 18th century Italian comic intermezzo, originally inserted between the acts of
serious operas, won enormous contemporary popularity. The present release includes
an example of the form from the now largely neglected Neapolitan composer
Domenico Sarri in which lovers quarrel and are re-united. Mirena e Floro was the
work of two composers, Handel’s London rival Bononcini, and Gasparini, one of the
leading Italian opera composers of the day. The plot again concerns the quarrels and
reconciliation of lovers, who use various tricks and disguises to achieve their ends.
Domenico Sarri (1679–1744)
Moschetta e Grullo
Francesco Gasparini (1661–1727)
Giovanni Bononcini (1670–1747)
Mirena e Floro o La Nana francese e Armena
The genre of early eighteenth-century comic chamber operas known as intermezzi was among the most popular forms of entertainment of the day. Their genesis can be found in the serious opera, or opera seria, which in its early stages often had comic characters incorporated in the libretto, usually servants or peasants. Around 1706 these comic characters were separated from the larger opera and given their own opera, performed as interludes between the acts of the opera seria. Hence the title intermezzi. After a brief transitional period, the intermezzo developed its own traditions and formulas which had no connection at all with the opera seria. The characters and situations were directly derived from the commedia dell'arte tradition of improvised theatre. Slapstick, sight gags and disguises were widely incorporated into the intermezzi, as in commedia. Since they had the added element of music, though, they incorporated patter singing, wide fluctuations in tempi, large ranges for the singers and many instrumental and vocal effects to exaggerate the comedy.
The intermezzo spread rapidly throughout Europe from its centre in Naples, reaching Moscow in 1731 and London in 1737. After 1750 or so (with the noted exception of Paris, where an Italian troupe performed several intermezzi to great acclaim and notoriety), the popularity of the intermezzi began to wane as audiences became more interested in larger scale comic operas with several characters and more complex plots. Works which were direct descendants of the intermezzi tradition continued to be written, though, as seen in such works as Haydn's La Canterina (1766), Mozart's Bastien und Bastienne (1768) and Cherubini's early Il marito giocatore (1775), and even, rarely, into the twentieth century in Wolf-Ferrari's Il segreto di Susanna (1909).
Moschetta e Grullo
Born in Naples, Domenico Sarri (also called Sarro), although quite forgotten today, is consistently listed, along with Hasse, Vinci, Leo and Pergolesi, as one of the foremost composers of intermezzi of his day. He seems to have split his creative activities almost equally between serious and comic operas, although it is for the latter that he is most highly regarded. Sarri was not a well-travelled composer and enjoyed only a brief period of success in Naples, where he spent almost his entire life. Only between around 1718 and 1726 were his operas much performed, although he was active much longer. In 1728 he was named maestro di cappella to the city of Naples, and then maestro di cappella at the court there in 1737. In this position, it fell to him to compose the opera which had the honour of opening the newly built Teatro San Carlo in 1737: Achille in Sciro. Some of the neglect of Sarri is due, in part, to disparaging comments made about him by Charles Burney and Joseph Joachim Quantz, who said that Sarri only copied Leonardo Vinci's style. By the end of his life he was regarded as someone who composed in an older, outdated style. Sarri's 1727 intermezzo Moschetta e Grullo was originally paired with the opera seria Siroe, re di Persia.
Synopsis: [Track 1]– Act I begins with an aria which introduces Moschetta's character as a typically flirtatious coquette. She sings of how mad the women are who have just one lover ('Quanto son pazze'). We learn that she has been spurned by Grullo and now vows revenge on him. To reach her goal, she plants a portrait of a beautiful woman where he will see it, then hides.  Grullo comes in, expressing anger at her betrayal of him and swears to never love her again ('Non l'amerò mai più').  He finds the portrait and decides to use it to make Moschetta jealous. She approaches and feigns jealousy as he sings passionately to the portrait. Her anger rises to the point that she decides to use witchcraft on him, which scares him into renouncing the portrait and admitting his deception.  They sing a duet, she of how hurt she is and he of how he will never betray her again ('No, no, non sei piu quello').
 Act II opens with Grullo dressed as a soldier, singing of how love is much more difficult than war, so he has decided to go off to battle.  She is surprised by this and sings a love song to him to win him back ('Sai tu chi t'ama?').  He will have none of that, though, 9and his next aria describes how he will go off to battle now as a brave warrior ('Il soldato che va in guerra').  In desperation she then turns on her full charms and seduces him into agreeing to give up his plans for war and to marry her instead. When he agrees to this, she then enumerates for him what she expects of him as a husband: she can do whatever she wants without his interference or complaints.  Her charm wins him over and he agrees to everything she says, and they sing a “happy” duet to conclude the opera ('Consolato il cor mi sento').
Mirena e Floro o La Nana francese e Armena
Mirena e Floro represents an interesting case in the history of intermezzi, although one not without precedent, as it was composed by two different composers: Francesco Gasparini wrote the first and third acts and Giovanni Bononcini wrote the second. It was written in 1718 for an unspecified royal occasion for the court at Dresden. The work is very typical in plot and style of other intermezzi of the day as it follows the simple formula of a soprano and bass who go through various ploys to trick the one another into marriage. Jealousy, identity changes and exotic characters are all part of the libretto.
Gasparini was one of the most successful operatic composers of the early eighteenth century, working principally in Venice and Rome, but writing for theatres and occasions in other cities as well. He was born near Lucca in 1661. He was an organist early in his career, working at the church of Madonna dei Monti, but also was reported to be an accomplished singer and violinist. Since operatic productions were not allowed in Rome during his early years there (because of papal restrictions), he was forced to write for the theatre elsewhere. His first operas were thus written for Brescia in 1684. By 1690, the restrictions were lifted and he was writing for the Roman theatres. In 1701 he won the position of maestro di coro at the Ospedale della Pietà in Venice. His first intermezzo, Lisetta e Astrobolo, was written there in 1707, shortly after the genre came into being as a separately performed work. He remained in Venice until 1713, during which time he wrote 24 operas, all for the Teatro San Cassiano. From Venice, Gasparini returned to Rome, settling there for good in 1716, when he became maestro di cappella to Prince Francesco Maria Ruspoli, succeeding Antonio Caldara in the position. Two years later he became a member of the Accademia dell'Arcadia. Gasparini was praised by his contemporaries for the high quality of his recitatives, to be found in the present intermezzo. He even includes a French-style arietta to underscore Floro's disguise as a Frenchman. He was living in Rome at the time of the composition of Mirena e Floro, which was paired in Dresden with Antonio Lotti's L'Ascanio.
Bononcini, one of the foremost composers of vocal music of his day was born in Modena in 1670 and began studies in Bologna when he was eight years old. His opera career began in Rome in 1692, winning his first real celebrity with Il trionfo di Camilla in 1696. He was employed in Vienna and in Berlin and then from 1719 to 1731 intermittently in London, eventually returning to Vienna, where he died in 1747. With just a few exceptions, most of his later music was non-operatic. Besides Mirena e Floro, Bononcini famously collaborated with another composer on writing a composite opera, a common practice of the day. It was for the King's Theatre in 1721 that Bononcini, Francesco Amadei and George Frideric Handel wrote one act each for Muzio Scevola.
Synopsis:  As the opera begins, Mirena and Floro are having a rather violent fight, complete with insults and threats. - One look into the other's eyes puts that to rest and the two vow to love each other, as they each sing an aria about how sighs and laughter will inspire love, but ignoring will only bring pain ('Se tu mi guardi' and 'Con il tuo ridere').  With suspicion of one another still in the air,  the final duet of the first act has them singing of their true love, complete with bird-calls in the violins, as they compare each other to birds in love ('Tu dolce mio core').
 Act II begins with Floro pretending to be a maid in order to gain entrance into Mirena's house and spy on her behaviour with other men.  She is easily taken in, as she desires a bevy of servants so that she can act the part of a wealthy countess ('Già par mi mirarvi'). - To gain her favour, he describes his former mistress and how he would let her stay in bed all day and play cards at night ('Tutto il giorno stava in letto').  This pleases Mirena, and soon Floro is in her confidence – so much so that she tells how men are nothing but deceivers.  This sends Floro into a rage and the act concludes with an angry duet (Sono Floro).
 In Act III both of the characters are in disguise, Mirena as a poor Armenian coffee seller, and Floro as a wealthy Frenchman. After singing an aria telling women to flee from love, since all men are nothing but traitors ('Donne mie, fuggite amore'), she assumes her Armenian rôle, beguiling Floro in the process.  In an extended recitative he declares his love for her, while using his French accent to his advantage. She is not taken in.  He finally realizes who she is and they both abandon pretences and sing a final duet of how silly they have been and how constant they will remain in the future ('Ah, Floro, Floro').
Peter van de Graaff
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SARRI / GASPARINI / BONONCINI: Italian Intermezzi