The unknown masterpiece by Pergolesi

In 1731 a little more than a teenager Pergolesi composed “Li prodigi della divina grazia nella conversione e morte di San Guglielmo duca d’Aquitania”, a sacred drama in three acts that earned him as a final proof of his studies at the Conservatorio dei Poveri di Gesù Cristo.

It was played in the cloister of Sant’Agnello, one of the oldest churches in Naples (also called Sant’Aniello in Caponapoli being at the highest point of the ancient city) and is a sacred drama with typical Neapolitan characteristics, full of extreme religiosity but lightened by the presence of a funny character (speaking Neapolitan dialect) that accompanies the whole work. This mixture of tragedy and comedy fits perfectly in the Neapolitan theatrical tradition: a tradition that from the sacred medieval representations passes through the seventeenth-century theatre and whose vestiges are still represented today by that infinitely changing Christmas Neapolitan theater rite: the “Cantata dei pastori”. The purely popular and funny elements coexist with the dramatic spiritual, political and human story of the protagonist creating two real parallel plots, that of San Guglielmo and his Neapolitan “Sancho Panza”, Cuosemo. Both, initially proud soldiers, finish the work dead the Saint and in monk clothes (willingly or not) Cuosemo.

The disk is receiving considerable acclaim. Andrea Bedetti reviews on “In the unfolding of the whole work, and this also in the recitatives, there is always a feverish impulse, an inner instability from which this historical element emerges tirelessly, this capacity to philologically restore the conflictual dimension, to render a drama that goes beyond the mere representative entity, as if the Neapolitan conductor and harpsichordist wanted, with the full participation of voices and orchestral accompaniment, to depict with the sounds the pressing of history and its influences on man. Questa febbricità,this inner “electricity” that lurks in the vein of the entire work goes to intervene in a figure “softening” as can be the comic role embodied by Captain Cuosemo (played by Mario Sollazzo that sings with an excellent performance), whose “estranged” dimension, exquisitely “human”, instead of representing the typical “element of rupture”, embodies the social layer, the political and economic issue (to put it with the Marxian conceptions) of living time, thus transforming its comedy into a dramatic allusion.”

Francois Lebel comments on OPERA magazine in France: “One is quickly conquered by an irresistible dramatic power, inserting the air in the heat of the action, with many striking innovations. The main asset was the Ensemble Alraune, richly coloured, under the baton of Mario Sollazzo, who also plays the role of Cuosemo, in Neapolitan dialect: always funny”.

Dominy Clemens writes: “The comic bass character of Captain Cuòsemo is the most distinctive ‘light relief’ of the piece, with Mario Sollazzo’s voice almost defiantly non-operatic but highly effective in the role. If you can cope with this Baroque genre’s usual swathes of recitative and male roles written for high or female voices – all convincingly acted and sung here – then the whole thing can be counted as royally entertaining.
You know you are in for a treat from the start, with an opening sinfonia full of drive and energy, the musicians of Ensemble Alraune sounding superb. The singers are all excellent, and the recording has a vibrant ‘live’ feel, with a sense that risks are being taken.The production is red-blooded and captivating, and all of the singers are excellent both in terms of vocal colour and dramatic characterisation. A particular highlight is San Gugliemo’s sublime aria Manca la guida al piè in Act III, but you’ll be hard pressed to find any weak moments at any point in this production.”

The DIAPASON magazine reviews: “Mario Sollazzo and the beautiful ensemble Alraune record the first succes (1731) of Pergolesi, a sacred drama where the confusion of genres reigns. See the extreme disparity of the solsts, between the grandiloquence seria of Carla Nahadi Babelegoto, the triviality buffa of male secondary roles and the oratorian fervour of Monica Piccinini.” writes: “The Italian Ensemble Alraune, on period instruments plays with big stylistic consciousness and vivacity and is brilliantly conducted by Mario Sollazzo, who also sings the role of Cuòsemo, whose comic elements he savours with a characteristic baritone. The other top-class singers maintain a high sound culture, with all their parts. Overall, it is worth getting closer to this rarely heard spiritual drama through this excellent recording.”

Martin Mezger on Concerto Magazine defines the opera as “Hopeless funny, abysmally tragic. The quartet at the end of the First Act is an anticipation of the future of musical theatre and the whole piece is the astonishing example of an almost rich modesty and economy, but which filling in figures, Differentiations, expressions and allusions Pergolesi creates with the meager means, is phaenomenal. The ensemble Alraune shows up in good to high form. Born in Naples, the ensemble leader Sollazzo, who, in addition to his part-time job as a singer in the buffo role of Cuosemo, also plays continuo on the harpsichord, gives incisive impulses with his continuo playing, the strings play elastic to drastic, with sensitive lines, with temperamentally attacking, sometimes bitterly accentuating verve. The drama of the sacred lives on in this committed, thought-out, agile, pulsing recording of an astonishing work.”

Alraune recorded the San Guglielmo as first complete recording on original instruments. The 3CDs and the 142 pages Booklet is produced by NovAntiqua Records.


San Guglielmo | Monica Piccinini
San Bernardo | Carla Nahadi Babelegoto
Angelo | Caterina di Tonno
Demonio | Mauro Borgioni
Cuosemo | Mario Sollazzo
Arsenio | Federica Carnevale
Conductor | Mario Sollazzo

© NovAntiqua Records