This is not the first recording of Alessandro Scarlatti's oratorio Il Martirio di Santa Teodosia; a zippier version was made by I Barocchisti and Diego Fasolis on the CPO label some years back, but there's much to recommend this version by Les Accents and their leader, Thibault Noally, nicely recorded at a Protestant church in Paris. The fact is that this is something of a neglected masterpiece, an oratorio with many operatic traits, and a highly listenable and dramatic piece of musical storytelling, and it is susceptible to multiple readings. The story is from the annals of the early Christian church, and Scarlatti appears to be the only composer to have treated it musically (the librettist is unknown). The titular Teodosia of the early fourth century is arrested and ordered executed by the Roman governor, Urbanus. Thrown into the sea several times, she emerges whole and is finally decapitated. Meanwhile, Urbanus' son Arsenio falls head over heels in love with Teodosia, who is determined to accept martyrdom. Scarlatti responds to this with a mixture of the older 17th century Italian oratorio style, with a good deal of action in the recitatives, including several impressive trio recitatives, and some absolutely gorgeous arias. Listen to "Spirti beati," Teodosia's avowal of tragic demise; if it isn't the equal of Purcell's "When I am laid in earth," from Dido and Aeneas, it's at least in the same league. The singers here, led by Emmanuelle de Negri as Teodosia, are a delicate group. There's room for more oomph, but many may prefer it this way. There is no chorus as the four singers simply join together for the final "coro." This is a work with much to reveal, and yet almost unknown. Kudos to Les Accents for rediscovering it.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Il Martirio di Santa Teodosia|