SALIERI Europa riconosciuta
Milan’s famous Teatro alla Scala was inaugurated on August 3, 1778 with a production of Salieri’s new serious opera Europa riconosciuta. In December 2004, after three years of renovations, La Scala reopened with the first modern revival of Salieri’s opera. The libretto by Mattia Verazi follows reformist principles by breaking with several conventions in order to serve the drama, such as ensembles carrying forward action, the reduction of exit arias within more flexibly constructed scenes, a prominent integration of choruses, a dramatic structure in two acts (rather than three), and even an onstage death.
La Scala’s strings can be heavy-handed but Riccardo Muti has a sure sense of dramatic weighting and colour, and there is plenty of athleticism and precision in Salieri’s most virile writing – notably a stormy overture that depicts a shipwreck (cleverly represented by a rotating boat in Luca Ronconi’s staging). Salieri’s thinking as a musical dramatist is clearly manifest in scenes that express inner conflict between divided loyalties or desperate situations – most notably Asterio’s three-section Act 2 set-piece ‘Del morir l’angoscie adesso’, in which he bids his son and wife farewell as he is about to be put to death on account of a barbaric edict to kill the first foreigner who sets foot in Tyre (sung ardently and precisely by Genia Kühmeier). Diana Damrau and Désirée Rancatore both scintillate with vocal pyrotechnics in very high tessituras – each going up to top F sharps and Gs with impressive agility: Damrau is on magnificent form when the anguished Europa resolves to stay loyal to her condemned husband (‘Ah lo sento’); if anything, Rancatore is even better in Semele’s ‘Quando più irato freme’ (a virtuoso dialogue between stratospheric voice and concertante oboe that conveys a reaction to tempestuous ordeals).
Daniela Barcellona’s singing is firm, dynamically flexible and expressive as the noble hero Isséo (who eventually renounces his old love for Europa, saves her husband Asterio from execution, and acts for the good of the nation). As the self-serving villain Egisto, Giuseppe Sabbatini declaims as a ‘can belto’ tenor. Several choruses are sung extremely boldly by a vast body of singers positioned in rows underneath the main stage – commenting on the action almost as if in the manner of a Classical Greek chorus. Although a more idiomatic musical performance in a few respects can be imagined, this sleek production affirms Salieri’s credentials as a disciple of Gluck.