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Three Intermezzi: 1728-1730.

The issuing of these three little works, La contadina, La serva scaltra and Il tutore, in the handsome pale grey cloth of the Concentus musicus series, makes them uniform with the first volume of the series, Klaus Hortschansky's edition of Hasse's 1771 Ruggiero, which appeared in 1979. The new editor is Gordana Lazarevich, who has previously edited another Hasse intermezzo, Larinda e Vanesio (Madison, 1979; reviewed in Music & Letters, lxii (1981), 225-6).

We thus have modern editions of four intermezzi, and of about as many serious operas, by this prolific composer. It is very puzzling. Hasse was a great opera composer whose interest in comedy was about as extensive as that of Wagner or Britten. It is as though the musicological world of the 22nd century were devoting itself to expensive editions of Paul Bunyan and Albert Herring and perhaps Owen Wingrave (Ruggiero was Hasse's last opera, written when he was over 70) without giving any attention to Peter Grimes. Admittedly, the intermezzi enjoyed long popularity; La contadina, according to Lazarevich, was produced on at least 38 different occasions between 1728 and the 1750s.

The Neapolitan comic intermezzo, which flourished in the 1720s, was usually in two parts, performed between the acts of an opera seria. Some were in three parts, like La serva scaltra in the present edition, which, as far as possible, follows the earliest manuscripts (a wise policy, not followed by Rudolf Gerber in his edition of Arminio for Das Erbe deutscher Musik, 1st ser., xxvii-xxviii (1957)). In the case of a three-part work, the third part was performed in the middle of the last act of the seria piece. There were always two roles, male and female, buffo and soubrette; other characters were mute. The girl, usually a social inferior, either succeeded in marrying the foolish bass and thus establishing herself in the world (as in La serva scaltra) or avoided his amorous advances to marry the man of her choice (as in Il tutore). Buffo singers were not the same as the performers of opere serie but were specialists, like Domenico Cricchi, who sang Tabarano in La contadina for twenty years, following the piece from Treviso to Venice, Bologna, Parma, Florence and Potsdam.

Unlike the edition of Larinda e Vanesio, which was a 'performing' version, the Concentus musicus volume is a scholarly edition, though the scholarship is unaggressive. Nothing obtrusive is added to the score; the manuscripts are unusually rich in bass figures, and the editor adds a few more, not always inspiring total confidence (there is something very odd in a recitative from La contadina on page 84). When there is a disputed feature of notation, such as the wavy 'trill' line under a row of repeated notes on page 101, she plumps for one explanation and gives out a strong message (this sign 'means a slow tremolo, produced by a slight accent, followed by a sudden decrescendo, on each note'. Well, it sounds like a good idea.)

There is a helpful historical introduction, though some improbabilities have been copied out of the old books: it is very unlikely that Hasse came to London in 1734 for a performance of Artaserse, and he did not meet Keiser during his short stay at the Hamburg opera since Keiser was out of town. The editor's English style is very curious, and she falls into malapropisms ('compiling' for 'compounding' and 'extricate' for 'extort' on page xi). The critical commentary at the end lists the manuscripts and printed librettos; somewhat surprisingly, there is an autograph of La contadina, though not of the original version (Hasse autographs are rare). We are reminded that this work has already been published in modern times, over 50 years ago in Filippo Caffarelli's Pergolesi edition, as well as in an edition by Vito Frazzi (for Edizioni musicali OTOS of Florence), where it is still ascribed to Pergolesi.

Today's opera directors do not need 'performing' scores. Indeed, you wonder whether they need editions at all; Howard Mayer Brown's splendid series of facsimiles Italian Opera, 1640-1770 (New York, 1977-83) includes the 1733 Siroe, a truly important opera, in a beautifully clear manuscript. Still, this tidy edition contains everything needed for a revival of three amusing miniatures, even supplying a blank stave on which the right-hand harpsichord part may be sketched. If there are any directors interested in Hasse but daunted by the great opere serie, I recommend one of the gorgeous Viennese feste teatrali of the 1760s, Alcide al bivio, Egeria or Partenope. There are no editions yet, I'm afraid, but the manuscripts are excellent.

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Author:Monelle, Raymond
Publication:Music & Letters
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Nov 1, 1994
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