The American conductor Alan Curtis, an important pioneer in reviving many forgotten early operas, died in July at age 80. This week’s “Trove Thursday” unearths Il Tito, a beguiling work by the inexplicably ignored Italian master Antonio Cesti, a composer Curtis championed at the Innsbruck Festival where he frequently conducted during the 1980s.  

Cesti (1623-1669) may be best known for Il Pomo d’Oro, a work so long and spectacular that a special open-air theater had to be constructed for its 1668 Vienna premiere of which a number of celebrated prints survive.

Though Il Tito will be unfamiliar to many, this synopsis may help clarify a bit an extraordinarily complicated plot typical of mid-17th century Italian opera. The opera is a prequel of sorts to Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito as Nicolò Beregan’s libretto revolves around the rivalry for the beautiful Berenice whose banishment from Rome was shown by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle at the beginning of his celebrated film and stage productions of Mozart’s opera.

Although his operas mostly fit into the mid-17th-century Venetian mold, nearly all premiered in Austria rather than in Italy. Unfortunately, compared to those of his contemporary Cavalli, Cesti’s are rarely performed or recorded although the Spanish soprano Raquel Andueza recently released “Alma Mia,” an enchanting collection of opera excerpts.

If any Cesti aria is familiar, it’s “Intorno all’idol mio” from Orontea, his most revived work. It’s included on Joyce DiDonato’s Drama Queens CD which is conducted by Curtis, her long-time mentor and frequent collaborator.

Cesti: Il Tito
Innsbruck Festival
25 August 1983

Berenice: Daniela Mazzucato
Tito: Gloria Banditelli
Celso: Ann Mason
Sabina: Alexis Marago
Marzia: Judith Nelson
Lepido: Derek Lee Ragin
Domiziano: Jeffrey Gall
Polemone: Max-Rene Cosotti
Ninfo: Guy de Mey
Aulo Cinna: Otto Restbichler
Agrippa: Jeffrey Thomas
2 Pagen: Alexander und Sebastian Bart

Il Complesso Barocco
Conductor: Alan Curtis

As always, Il Tito and all past “Trove Thursday” selections are available for download from iTunes or via any RSS reader.