With its recent recording of Alessandro Scarlatti’s Gli equivoci nel sembiante, Hamilton’s dedicated early music chorale, Capella Intima, joined by a compact cohort of period players drawn from the ranks of the Gallery Players of Niagara and Nota Bene Baroque Players gently but firmly pushes back against the bleakness of the last six months with a bright, sunny rendition of a vastly underappreciated work. Scarlatti’s first opera written at the astonishingly youthful age of 18, a diverting pastoral dramma per musica, enchants and delights in this fine double CD release on the Musica Omnia label.

Variously translated as Equivocal Appearances — or Love Will Not Suffer Deceptions; Amazing Resemblance, Amazing Confusion; or, rather less ornately, Folly in Love, the tumultuous tale of antic misadventure featuring not-so-innocent bickering nymphs and self-absorbed swains earned Scarlatti almost instant acclaim following its courtly 1679 premiere in Rome. With a wry, sharply observed libretto by Domenico Filippo Contini, the lush, tranquil landscape of Arcadia is transformed into a raging battlefield of stormy human emotion. Obsessive love, sibling rivalry, feverish seduction topped with layer on layer of comic complexity — a forged letter, mistaken identity, long lost twins — add up to a virtual masterclass in pioneering opera buffa.

Story is as outrageous as Scarlatti’s score is elegant.

Overseeing both vocal and instrumental resources, Capella Intima founder Bud Roach, in the role of Musical Director, exercises admirable focus and control, recit to aria, sinfonia to ritornello in this notably busy, bustling chamber piece recorded over a period of four days in Hamilton’s Central Presbyterian Church. First and second violins, viola, cello, theorbo/baroque guitar, harpsichord/organ dance and weave scene to scene, maintaining near perfect balance and proportion.

Alessandro Scarlatti occupies a central position in opera history, bridging from Monteverdi’s revolutionary experiments in the early 1600s to Mozart’s exquisite 18th century classicism. Less inventor than skilled engineer, Scarlatti developed and refined pre-existing notions of harmony and tonality, perfected the use of established modes, polished melodies to a gleaming finish. Arias are made more charming than ever with a greater variety of elaboration, stanza to stanza, decorative elements scattered throughout, designed to heighten dramatic effect. The da capo form so beloved of showmen like Vivaldi and Handel was only a generation away. Roach and company neglect nothing. Virtually every aspect of Scarlatti’s characteristic compositional technique is vibrantly reflected in singing and playing throughout this unfailingly engaging Gli equivoci’s 2 hour 18 minute playing time.

Singing good nymph, bad nymph Clori and Lisetta, mezzo Vicki St. Pierre and soprano Sheila Dietrich audibly revel in their roles, St. Pierre, the earthy, forceful voice of reason, appealingly contrasted by Dietrich’s trippingly playful high notes. Staunch sisterly sobriety vs. sly sprightly soubrette.

Tenor Bud Roach and baritone David Roth sing the perpetually oversensitive shepherd, Eurillo, and caddish stranger to Utopia, Armindo, respectively — identical brothers as it transpires, the latter kidnapped at birth, ultimately reunited, quite literally, by faint chance. Both sound supremely stylish, Roach with his abundant rapid-fire coloratura, Roth with his devilishly wicked lower reach.

Taken as a group, all four singers form a captivating ensemble and although the composer only once calls for them to perform together as such (pop-up duets predominate), a strong sense of shared artistic investment underlies every track.

Time has not been kind to Alessandro Scarlatti. Despite his prodigious output — a staggering 60-plus operas, 24-odd serenatas, three dozen oratorios and over 50 cantatas — interest in performing what survives of his vocal catalogue has largely faded in this century. Capella Intima’s fresh new recording of an oddly overlooked sparkling Baroque gem goes some considerable distance in upholding Scarlatti’s joyful, life-affirming artistry. This is music we all desperately need.

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Gli equivoci nel sembiante can be purchased as CD or digital download from the Gallery Players: https://galleryplayers.ca/shop/music

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