Beware the Ides of March as it means “Trove Thursday” will be posting Giulio Cesare in Egitto! But since we’ve already had Handel’s with Janet Baker, today instead must be Antonio Sartorio’s 1676 setting featuring the artist formerly known as Alexandrina Pendatchanska in the title role. 

Most of the operas composed during the art form’s first century remain neglected. Monteverdi’s three startling masterpieces see regular revivals sometimes even at major opera houses but more usually 17th century works remain the stuff of specialists and festivals, particularly in the US.

For example, the industrious Yale Baroque Opera Project turns next month to Cavalli’s L’Egisto (featuring a magnificent mad scene) for two free performances while the centerpiece of next year’s Boston Early Music Festival will be Steffani’s 1691 Orlando generoso.

Occasionally a non-Monteverdi work gets taken up by a mainstream opera company like Munich’s Bayerische Staatsoper where David Alden’s production of Cavalli’s La Calisto is revived this month with a high-powered trio of ladies—Christiane Karg, Anna Bonitatibus and Karina Gauvin—leading the cast.

I understand the Grand Théâtre de Genève is planning Charpentier’s Médée with Anna Caterina Antonacci for an upcoming season while Lully’s works show up regularly in France with a new Phaëton due at Versailles in May.

“Trove Thursday” has tried to do its part sauntering through 17th century Italian opera decade by decade from Monteverdi’s 1643 L’Incoronazione di Poppea to Cavalli’s 1654 Il Xerse  and 1658 L’Ipermestra and on to Cesti’s Il Tito from 1666.

Now comes the Venetian Sartorio whose fourteen operas include such unique titles as Gl’amori infruttuosi di Pirro and I duo tiranni al soglio and who split his time between Italy and Hannover where he was Kapellmeister for nine years. Antonio’s brother Gasparo also composed operas and died in 1680, the same year Antonio succumbed at age 50.

Until this revival his Giulio Cesare was perhaps best known for Giacomo Francesco Bussani’s libretto which was closely followed by Nicola Francesco Haym for his text for Handel’s masterpiece fifty years later. Cleopatra’s bewitching “Quando voglio” (with castanets!) was more recently taken up by Cecilia Bartoli for a Cleopatra-themed program she performed in Salzburg concurrently with her Handel Giulio Cesare production there.

The aria also been recorded by Patricia Petibon.

A short video from this Innsbruck production gives a few tidbits of the more light-hearted side of the score including the inimitable Dominique Visse as Tolomeo.

Earlier this month Penda (née Pendatchanska) posted on Facebook that she was currently singing her 70th leading role: Santuzza in Cavalleria Rusticana at the Monnaie in Brussels. Today’s Sartorio performance may have been another crucial stop in the transition she undertook in the early 2000s moving from doing primarily 19th century bel canto repertoire to taking up works from earlier eras. Her long affiliation with René Jacobs revitalized her career beginning with Florian Leopold Gassmann’s gloriously wacky 1769 L’Opera Seria.

I’ve heard Penda and Jacobs perform together only in Mozart—La clemenza di Tito and Don Giovanni in Paris then Idomeneo here two years ago at the Mostly Mozart Festival.

Although she’s sung Fidelio and Salome recently in Santa Fe, New York hasn’t seen Penda in a staged opera since her miscast Elena in La Donna del Lago at City Opera in 2007. It was unfortunate as her thrilling Ermione three years earlier crowned one of best things that company did during that decade.

Sartorio: Giulio Cesare in Egitto
Innsbruck Festival
25 August 2004

Cleopatra: Laura Alonso
Cornelia: Claire Brua
Giulio Cesare: Alexandrina Pendatchanska
Sesto: Amel Brahim-Djelloul
Nireno: Maria Cristina Kiehr
Tolemeo: Dominique Visse
Achilla: Federico Sacchi
Curio: Andries Cloete
Rodisbe: Steven Cole

La Cetra Barockorchester Basel
Conductor: Attilio Cremonesi

Giulio Cesare can be downloaded by clicking on the icon of a square with an arrow pointing downward on the audio player and the resulting mp3 file will appear in your download directory.

Well over 100 “Trove Thursday” podcasts posted since the series began in September 2015 remain available from iTunes for free, or via any RSS reader.

Photo: Matt Hennek