PERGOLESI La Salustia
>La Salustia (Naples, 1732) was the 21-year-old Pergolesi’s first serious stage work. The libretto is an adaptation of Apostolo Zeno’s Alessandro Severo: the emperor Alessandro’s wife Salustia is persecuted by his jealous mother Giulia, which sets in motion dynastic difficulties and a treacherous revenge plot by Salustia’s father Marziano; these difficulties are eventually overcome through Salustia’s noble heroism in defending her mother-in-law from successive assassination attempts.
Corrado Rovaris directs a crisply paced performance and the Accademia Barocca de I Virtuosi Italiani play gracefully, notwithstanding imperfect intonation from the strings and somewhat restrained horns. The attractive, gimmick-free production by Juliette Deschamps sets the performers in elegant 18th-century costumes against a stark pseudo-Roman backdrop and the singing is consistently at a high level. Some readers might have noticed countertenor Florin Cezar Ouatu thanks to Romania’s classy entry in Eurovision 2013; I admired his soft slow singing in ‘Andrò ramingo e solo’, in which Alessandro tenderly laments being tricked into repudiating his beloved wife. Serena Malfi and Laura Polverelli get the best dramatic scenes as the afflicted daughter-in-law and her cruel mother-in-law, such as Giulia’s gloating ‘Odio di figlia altera’ (with mocking bassoons) and Salustia’s vindicatory ‘Tu m’insulti? Io non pavento’ (after she has prevented her enemy from drinking poison). Act 2 concludes with a finely characterised quartet in which the heroine tensely refuses to reveal the identity of the conspirators. At the emotive core of Act 3 there is an intriguing foreshadowing of the famous Stabat mater when Salustia pleads for her father’s life (‘Per queste amare lagrime’).
The Pergolesi-Spontini Foundation’s project to produce and film all of the composer’s operas at his birthplace Iesi is now completed: the quality of the musical performances has been generally good, and Deschamps’s sincere production of La Salustia hints at what greater heights Pergolesi might have reached had he lived beyond the age of 26.