The idea of recreating an accademia musicale (private concert) at the home of Roman artist/patron Pier Leone Ghezzi in 1723 and putting on works that might have been played at such an event is an intriguing one. Add to that that we were promised caricatures; Ghezzi being a noted pioneer of the form. Marco Cera, who conceived the show, seemed to be onto a good thing.
What we actually got wasn’t exactly what I expected. There were the musicians, including noted baroque soprano Roberta Invernizzi, impersonating Ghezzi’s guests; from Vivaldi to Farinelli, with Cera himself as Ghezzi. But there was also Ghezzi’s servant, played as Harlequin, acted by Dino Gonçalves. The show was heavy on Harlequin’s cheeky chappy clowning which was, as the lemur put it, like “watching Jerry Lewis channelling Roger Rabbit”. Not really my thing.
Leonardo Vinci’s Artaserse is in many ways it’s a classic opera seria. The good guy roles are written for castrati but the baddies here too go to high voices; a castrato and a tenor. But what sets this apart is that it was written for Rome where it premiered in 1730. At that time women were not allowed on stage in the Papal States so the two female roles were played by castrati en travesti. In recreating it in 2012, l’opéra national de Lorraine chose to cast all five castrati roles with countertenors, producing a cast like nothing I’ve ever seen or heard.