Salieri (Il) mondo alla rovescia
With Salieri’s star on the wane, Il mondo alla rovescia (“The topsy-turvy world”) was coolly received by the Viennese in January 1795 and quickly fell into near-oblivion for over two centuries. This recording, taken from a production in Verona’s Teatro Filarmonico in 2009, reveals an amusing comedy from an experienced master of opera buffa. Based on an updated (by Caterino Mazzolà) Goldoni libretto, the mildly risqué action is set on a mythical island where women, Amazon-like, rule the roost and men are reduced to drooling subservience. The status quo is challenged with the arrival of two shipwrecked aristocrats, a Count and a Marquise, and a European vessel intent on their rescue – although, in keeping with contemporary taste, Mazzolà adapts Goldoni’s original ending to stress the Enlightenment virtues of reconciliation and tolerance of differences.
Salieri has plenty of fun with the out-and-out buffo figures of the flouncing factotum Girasole (who announces himself in a fetching “catalogue” aria) and the grotesque Generala – the island’s ageing general, played by a bass in drag. But while his comic invention, whether in aria or ensemble, is lively and efficient, the finest music tends to come in the moments of reflection – say, the solemnly radiant slow section in the Act 1 finale, or the beautiful hymnic chorus near the end of Act 2. Memorable, too, are the Marquise’s two arias, and a serene pastoral aria (shades here of “Che puro ciel” from Gluck’s Orfeo) for the Colonella, who finally persuades the Count to remain on the island rather than return to male-dominated Europe. Here and elsewhere, Salieri’s woodwind writing can recall Mozart’s in richness and piquancy, though – a crucial difference – the effect tends to be charmingly decorative rather than psychologically illuminating.
Under the baton of Federico Maria Sardelli, the all-Italian cast and orchestra give a spirited account of an entertaining, musically resourceful opera that surely merits revival in Britain. The Marquise, Maria Laura Martorana, has a slightly disconcerting flutter, and is stretched by the coloratura in her aria with obbligato oboe. But Patrizia Cigna, as the Colonella, despatches her bellicose showpiece in Act 1 with aplomb (despite occasional moments of flatness), while mezzo Rosa Bove is imperiously over-the-top as the Adjutant who tries to force her attentions on the gay Girasole. All the men sing and characterise eagerly, with Maurizio Lo Piccolo revealing an agreeably sonorous bass-baritone as the narcissistic Count. The recorded sound is acceptable, though the variable balance sometimes brings the voices uncomfortably close. A pity that Dynamic haven’t edited out the fulsome applause after each number. Presentation, too, is barely adequate, with a perfunctory note entitled “Forget F Murray Abraham” – the actor who played the fictionalised Salieri in Amadeus – and a cursory synopsis (text and translation are only available via Dynamic’s website), but barely a word on the music.