Ian Page looks forward to our latest UK premiére, Jommelli’s Il Vologeso, on 28 April at Cadogan Hall.
Niccolò Jommelli was born in Aversa, near Naples, on 10 September 1714 and died on 25 August 1774. Largely forgotten now, he was one of the most celebrated composers of his day, and during a career which spanned thirty-seven years he wrote more than eighty operas. When I first set up Classical Opera I had scarcely heard of Jommelli, but now I find myself preparing with ever-growing excitement for the UK premiére of one of his operas. The work in question is Il Vologeso, which was first performed 250 years ago, on 11 February 1766, at the exquisite Ludwigsburg Schlosstheater. In its day it was one of Jommelli’s most successful works, but today it is a genuine rarity.
The story is set in c.164 AD. The Roman general Lucio Vero has just defeated the Parthian King Vologeso, and despite already being engaged to the Emperor;s daughter Lucilla he sets about claiming Vologeso’s bride Berenice. She must choose either Lucio’s hand in marriage or Vologeso’s severed head, and the colourful libretto includes one scene in which Vologeso is thrown to the lions.
As well as being an intriguing and beautiful score, Il Vologeso is a notable vehicle for great singing, and we have assembled a superb cast of young singers for our performance. It does not happen all that often that my first choice for every role is available, but happily that is the case with this project. The title role is sung by the wonderful Irish mezzo-soprano Rachel Kelly, a recent graduate of the Royal Opera’s Jette Parker Young Artists Programme, and Berenice by Gemma Summerfield, winner of last year’s Kathleen Ferrier Award. Associate Artist Stuart Jackson plays Lucio Vero, and Lucilla is played by Angela Simkin, who has just been selected to join the Jette Parker programme in September. The cast is completed by soprano Jennifer France and countertenor Tom Verney.
Jommelli’s music has a flavour all of its own, full of lyrical beauty and dramatic intensity, and this performance offers the audience a fascinating opportunity to experience first-hand the music of a composer who was held in extremely high regard by his contemporaries. On his death, one of the most important obituaries concluded: “If richness of thought, glittering fantasy, inexhaustible melody, heavenly harmony, deep understanding of all instruments, and particularly the full magical strength of the human voice – if great art affects entirely each chord of the human heart, if all these – yet combined with the sharpest understanding of musical poetry – constitute a musical genius, then in him Europe has lost its greatest composer.” I hope that you will be able to join us to judge for yourself.
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