STRADELLA Santa Pelagia
The sources of Santa Pelagia relate to performances in Modena in 1688 – six years after Stradella was murdered in Genoa. It seems likely that the oratorio originated in Rome; the eminent scholar Carolyn Gianturco suggested that it might have been commissioned by Queen Christina of Sweden in 1673. Andrea De Carlo suspects that the parts for violins and viola in the Modena manuscript are not Stradella’s own handiwork; he acknowledges there is already a recording of the oratorio that includes the disputed strings (Stradivarius, 2008), and argues that this allows him the liberty to pursue his own vision of how Stradella’s voice parts can instead be accompanied by up to eight basso continuo instruments (viola da gamba, cello, violone, archlute, two theorbos, triple harp, harpsichord and organ); Ensemble Mare Nostrum’s realisations range from sweet subtlety to vigorous spiciness in accordance to the emotion of the sung texts, and passages marked in the score as ritornellos are interpreted as improvisations over the bass line.
Pelagia (a wealthy and beautiful courtesan of Antioch) was inspired by the teaching of Bishop Nonno of Edessa to be baptised; she renounced her sinfulness and spent the rest of her days as a reclusive hermit at the Mount of Olives. Little of that is explained in the libretto’s Counter-Reformation trope of vanitas vanitatum: the penitent Pelagia (sung with impeccable stylishness and eloquence by Roberta Mameli) is at the centre of an intellectual moral dispute between personifications of the temptations of the World (characterised with an arrogant swagger by Sergio Foresti) and the true doctrine of the warrior Religion (the dulcet Raffaele Pe), with an occasional chime in support of Religion from Bishop Nonno (the light-toned Luca Cervoni). Regardless of how much or little of the composer’s original conception is intact, the fourth instalment in De Carlo’s ambitious Stradella Project is notable for its exceptional quality of musicianship, with all participants communicating the essence of the text with the utmost clarity and engagement.