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American Record Guide: (03/2016) 
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Reviewer: John W. Barker

Coming neatly between Giacomo Carissimi and Alessandro Scarlatti, Alessandro Stradella (1644-82) was a key figure in the development of the Italian form of sacred drama, the oratorio. His first work in the form—score lost, title and subject unknown—was in the tradition of Carissimi’s oratorium latinum. But the remaining six he composed were in the idiom of the oratorio volgare (Italian vernacular). Of those, two of them (La Susanna, Ester) told Old Testament stories. One, S. Giovanni Batista celebrates a New Testament saint. S. Pelagia deals with a Third Century Christian maiden who killed herself rather than submit to arrest and rape by persecutors. S. Edita is the 10th Century St Edith, illegitimate daughter

of the Angle-Saxon King Edgar, who preferred her life as a charitable nun to a chance at the throne. And, finally, there is this work. Of them all, S. Giovanni has been given several recordings, and Susanna likewise. The remainder have not appeared on records. What is curious about the present work is that it deals with a saint quite “on the fringe”. St John, nicknamed Chrisostomos or “goldenmouthed” for his eloquent preaching, was one of the four great Greek Fathers of the Fourth Century who were founders of Christian theology but are celebrated specifically in the Orthodox churches. Stradella’s oratorio deals only with the final episode of his career, his struggle with the East Roman Empress Eudoxia. Repelled by her vanity and self-indulgence, John, as Patriarch of Constantinople, harshly denounced her in his homilies, and she persecuted him in return. The struggle between them obviously attracted Stradella as a fine dramatic theme. The empress managed to have John sent into distant and harsh exile in 404 AD, but she herself died in childbirth later the same year.


This work survives only in a minimal score, without any separate libretto. A lot of conjecture has had to be applied to prepare a modern performing edition, especially in figuring out some of the characters the singers are meant to represent. There are, of course, the two protagonists, Eudosia, a soprano, and Crisostomo, a bass-baritone. One other historical character is Teofilo (Theophilus), Patriarch of Alexandria and Eudosia’s ally, sung by a tenor who also slips in to perform the waning function of Testo (Narrator). Entirely invented is the Inviato di Roma (Envoy from Rome), an important advocate of virtue and restraint—and a way of creating a spurious role for the Papacy to satisfy Roman Catholic sensibilities. Beyond these are figures of musical convenience:

consiglieri (councillors), Eudosia’s cortigiani (courtiers), and assorted seguiti (followers) of Teofilo and the Inviato. These pop in variously to comment on the moral issues of the story, curiously anticipating how Handel would later use his chorus in his English oratorios. The score is made up of recitatives, arias, and ensembles, all brief, but conveying the story and the characters’ thinking quite sharply. The oratorio ends with assurances that the two enemies are rewarded appropriately, Eudosia with a straight passage to Hell, Crisostomo with a triumphant recompense in Heaven.

The singers here are really good in their roles. Vendittelli makes a very lively villainess, with a lot of strong musical characterization. It’s hard to make much out of the cardboard personification of Crisostomo, but Bellotto sings it handsomely. Countertenor Mineccia sounds awfully feminine in the alto role of the Inviato, but avoids unctiousness. Tenor Cervoni is strongly assertive in his two functions, and the additional singers blend quite attractively. The surviving score gives only a continuo part for instrumentation, and here a crew of seven players offers a strong but flexible accompaniment. The sound is clear and

unmannered. The booklet gives very illuminating notes and—blessings be on ye!—the full libretto and translations. Be warned, though, that the print is almost microscopic, so bring your magnifying glass. In sum, this is an enjoyable recording debut for this work, and lovers of Baroque music will find this a welcome event.

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