Monday, February 29, 2016

The Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra and soloists in two versions of "Pimpinone"
Two versions of “Pimpinone” were the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra’s bill for the 4th concert of the 2015-2016 season. This writer attended the event on February 25th 2016 in the Mary Nathaniel Golden Hall of Friendship of the Jerusalem YMCA. The first setting heard was that of Tomaso Albinoni to the libretto of Pietro Pariati, the second, that of Georg Philipp Telemann, with the same Italian libretto translated into German and revised by Johann Philipp Praetorius. JBO founder and musical director David Shemer conducted the performance (not from the harpsichord), with baritone Guy Pelc as Pimpinone in both settings; mezzo-soprano Anat Czarny played Vespetta in the Albinoni opera, with Einat Aronstein portraying Vespetta in the Telemann version.

“Pimpinone” or “The Mismatched Marriage” is a comic intermezzo, the genre of intermezzi buffi serving as lavish entertainment, respite or comic relief between acts of larger operas. There are, in fact, a number of versions of the work’s theme and plot. (Pergolesi’s more frequently performed “La serva padrona” was written in 1733.) Vespetta (little wasp) – a cunning servant girl - and Pimpinone – a wealthy, foolish, gullible old bachelor - are stock 18th century intermezzo characters. Pimpinone engages Vespetta as his maidservant, falls in love with her and marries her. Vespetta quickly turns everything to her advantage and the marriage is conducted totally on her terms, with Pimpinone becoming her victim and forced to weaken to her every whim. “Pimpinone”, a satire on everyday Venetian life, raises the question of conflict between social classes.

Albinoni’s “Vespetta e Pimpinone”, one of the earliest surviving Venetian intermezzi, was first performed in 1708 in Venice as an interlude to his own opera “Astarto”; it enjoyed immediate success, becoming a standard work of opera repertoire. In Albinoni and Pariati’s user-friendly opera, its  rakish fast succession of brief arias and duets, charming melodies, a quirky use of counterpoint and a parlando style highlighting the amusing text, make for fine entertainment. Anat Czarny’s light, creamy, unforced voice was well suited to the medium as she threw Pimpinone flirtatious looks, turning to the audience saucily to inform it of the cunning Vespetta’s personal agenda. Guy Pelc, not comical enough in his role as the befuddled, stupid and perhaps uncouth Pimpinone (some facial expressions and body language borrowed from the commedia dell’arte would add a little more of the absurd, giving Pimpinone a touch of lust and irritability) as he presented the text with articulate transparency, his experience in the various aspects of Baroque style apparent throughout. Albinoni’s comical writing of the duets, in which each character states conflicting sentiments, came across splendidly. Hebrew and English translations of both “Pimpinone” versions, flashed onto a screen, making sure the listener missed nothing of the whimsical text.

For Telemann’s German-language setting of “Pimpinone”, we heard soprano Einat Aronstein as Vespetta, with Pelc as Pimpinone. First performed in 1725 in Hamburg, Telemann adhered to the Hamburg practice of some of the arias being sung in Italian, with the rest of the text in German. Not often heard today, the work represents Telemann’s writing at its best, the composer’s sophisticated musical score coupled with his bent for language and flair for humour on stage. Aronstein presented the upbeat, frilly, flirtatious and mischievous side of the waspish Vespetta, her bright, flexible voice gliding effortlessly up into its high register, as she teased the audience (and poor Pimpinone) with an occasionally over-extended dissonance at the end of an aria. Pelc’s singing flowed in beautifully-formed phrases as he used the composer’s clever onomatopoeic use of words to dress up the absurdity of the situation. In “So that she may speak badly of her husband”, the most dazzling aria of the last intermezzo, young Pelc’s outstanding singing showed his vocal control and elasticity as he shifted back and forth between his natural voice and falsetto in a patter song bristling with mockery, threats and vocal challenges! Then, as in Albinoni’s work, Pimpinone and Vespetta’s marriage troubles come to a head. In the Albinoni version he threatens to beat her with a stick, in the Telemann version it is she who will take a stick to him…such is life in a mismatched marriage.

Contrary to the disharmony of the plot, Maestro Shemer led his ensemble of fine instrumentalists in playing that was alive with interest, fine detail and Baroque elegance.

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