Thursday, August 02, 2007


Sometimes we just take certain things for granted: the earth goes round the sun, Australia will win the cricket World Cup, Mozart is better than Pergolesi. However, occasionally we need to take a long hard look at these preconceptions when new facts emerge.

"Lo Frate 'Nnamorato" (The Brother in Love) was written by Pergolesi for the Neapolitan stage around 1732--just four years before his untimely death from tuberculosis at the early age of 26. As such, it is rightly considered a baroque work. Nevertheless, to view the La Scala production, conducted by Claudio Abbado on DVD, is to realise that Pergolesi's comic world is only a step away from the classicism of Mozart's greatest operas. Indeed, Pergolesi's work is far more inventive and dramatically coherent than the majority of Mozart's early attempts at opera. I have always loved the delightful overture to Mozart's early opera buffa, "La Finta Giardiniera" (The Pretend Gardener), but a deeper exploration of the work via the recent Zurich Opera version on DVD, shows clearly the musical and dramatic superiority of the young Pergolesi over the young Mozart. Both works are mostly divided into separate arias with few duets, trios and choruses, but the Pergolesi is dramatically tighter and the music has dramatic weight. In contrast, the early Mozart is filled with pleasant sounding music that often appears to have little dramatic connection to the story. Furthermore, after a while, one sees clearly that the decision to place "La Finta Giardiniera" in the contemporary world and add a few sight gags is no more than a device to try and cover up for the deficiencies of the music. The first recognisably "Mozartian" opera is surely "Die Entfuhrung Aus Dem Serail" (The Harem): before this, the young man was learning his trade--and he seems to have done it rather more slowly than Pergolesi. It is also worth pointing out that Pergolesi worked with a far more circumscribed orchestra than Mozart. For example, in "Lo Frate 'Nnamorato" there is no use of drums or timpani--though in spite of this, Pergolesi achieves his sonic effects and dramatic colorings with a surer hand and better aesthetic taste than the young Mozart.

All in all, "Lo Frate 'Nnamorato" reminds us that there is much fine music from the past that rarely gets played. "La Finta Giardiniera", on the other hand, teaches us a different lesson. Namely, that there is a lot of average music that is played on a regular basis only because the composer later became famous.


Anonymous Mario said...

Love Pergolesi's "Stabat Mater".

12:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

super post, jon. i agree .

1:38 AM  

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