On redécouvre les operas flamboyants de Vinci, lieux favoris des rivalités des castrats pour lesquels il composa également des cantates virtuoses dans la veine d’Alessandro Scarlatti. L’Antique lui sert de sujets pour déployer l’objet de son art : des feux d’artifices vocaux dont la voix très légère de Valeria La Grota se tire avec habileté. Mais comment ne pas entendre au long de ce disque généreux que son soprano mince limite la variété des affetti, la monochromie de son timbre peinant à saisir la sensualité d’une écriture qui appelle les voix plus typées des contre-ténors. Pourtant, dans l’habillage évocateur dont la petite bande de l’Ensemble Sonar d’Affetto revêt sa chanteuse, tout l’univers entre charme et brio de Vinci parait, et l’écoute de l’album réserve de belles découvertes (E pure un gran portento), montrant comment, en se fondant dans la tradition de la cantate napolitaine, Vinci y apporte un théâtre des émotions, une certaine modernité des affects qui feront le succès durable de la plupart de ses opéras. Alors, plutôt que d’écouter d’affilé les sept cantates, promenez-vous dans les arias en allant de l’une à l’autre, faites vous votre propre itinéraire. (Discophilia - Artalinna.com) (Jean-Charles Hoffelé)
«I entered this city, impressed with the highest ideas of the perfect state in which I should find practical music. It was at Naples only that I expected to have my ears gratified with every musical luxury and refinement which Italy could afford. [...] And what lover of music could be in the place which had produced the two Scarlattis, Vinci, Leo, Pergolesi, Porpora, Farinelli, Jommelli, Piccini, Traetta, Sacchini, and innumerable others of the first eminence among composers and performers, both vocal and instrumental, without the most sanguine expectation?». With these words, Charles Burney, the author of one of the most famous and ancient “histories of music” of the modern age, in October 1770 noted in his travel diary his expectations – certainly not unfulfilled – when visiting Naples, a European capital for music. Among the composers mentioned, the name of Leonardo Vinci stands out, whose fame as an opera author, despite the fact that his death occurred four decades before Burney’s stay in Italy, was still known to the English scholar. After having studied his music better, he dedicated to him some flattering words in his General History of Music of 1776, where he wrote that “without degrading his art, rendered it the friend, though not the slave to poetry, by simplifying and polishing melody, and calling the attention of the audience chiefly to the voice-part, by disintangling it from fugue, complication, and laboured contrivance”. Born around 1690 in Strongoli, in the province of Crotone, Vinci moved to Naples at a young age, where he studied with Gaetano Greco at the Conservatorio dei Poveri di Gesù Cristo. Later he was “maestro di cappella” of the court of the Prince of San Severo and in 1725 he took over from Alessandro Scarlatti as “pro-vicemaestro della Real Cappella”, a position he held until his death in 1730. During his career, Vinci devoted himself almost exclusively to the musical theater, at the beginning composing comic operas in Neapolitan language (he made his debut at the Teatro dei Fiorentini in 1719), then “drammi per musica” on librettos by the most famous poets of the time, such as Silvio Stampiglia and Pietro Metastasio, which were mainly performed in Naples, Rome and Venice. Esteemed by contemporaries and by the intellectuals of the following generations (Giuseppe Sigismondo still defines him in 1820 as “one of the most renowned composers of his time”), Vinci is now considered by scholars to be one of the greatest members of a large group of musicians trained in Naples in the post-Scarlatti era, as well as one of the first to have proposed, with a musical composition of greater simplicity in the harmonic structure and a better melodic line, an overcoming of the late-Baroque musical style, which was felt in that epoque increasingly artificial and less appreciated. These stylistic characteristics, typical of Vinci’s mature phase, are evident not only in the operatic repertoire, but also in the chamber cantatas, a vocal genre that followed the same musical and poetic developments of the contemporary melodrama. Vinci’s currently known cantatas production consists of just over a dozen compositions, almost all for solo voice and continuo, a very small number if compared with the composers of the previous generation, primarily Alessandro Scarlatti. Nevertheless, as the seven cantatas proposed here demonstrate, the composer’s stylistic code and the formal structure of the compositions, strictly fixed in the alternation of two recitatives and two arias or closed pieces which are distinct from each other in terms of musical, textual and dramaturgical features, these pieces are emblematic examples of the last season of this kind of vocal music. On the textual level, the cantatas are all dedicated to the typical love themes of the pastoral tradition, with characters drawn from the Arcadian and mythological world (Filli, Nice, Clori, Irene, Cupido) or from chivalric literature (Olimpia, Bireno). The metric structure of the arias reflects that of the contemporary librettos by Pietro Metastasio and consists of two twin stanzas, symmetrical and homomorphic, i. e. consisting of the same number of verses with the same meter. This formal organization of the text leads to the musical structure of the so-called “aria con da capo”, where each of the two stanzas corresponds to a different and contrasting section of the music (A-B), the first of which is repeated at the end of the second, leaving the possibility to the performer of showing off his singing virtuosity through unwritten embellishments. However, compared to the late 17th-century cantatas tradition, Vinci seems to draw once again from the operatic repertoire, writing some arias in which the first section is more articulated (AA’-B-AA’), so much so that it forms what some scholars recall an embryonic structure of the sonata-form. The vein of a musical playwright is also outlined in some recitatives, where Vinci shows a marked adherence to the semantic value of certain words through sudden and unexpected agogic changes (as a tempo), rhythmic patterns that return in the arias (as if to anticipate the “affection” to which the listener will be moved), or real melodic cells that in some ways recall the visual madrigalisms of the 16th-century tradition. What follows, on the dramatic level even more than on the strictly musical one, is that the cantatas proposed here increasingly take on the shape of small opera scenes, which have nothing to envy to the most famous masterpieces for musical theater composed by Vinci. The apex in this sense is constituted by the cantata Dove sei che non ti sento, a typical lament-scene of Olympia abandoned by Bireno built with all the poetic-musical “topoi” of the well-known Lamento di Arianna, set to music in 1608 by Claudio Monteverdi on text by Ottavio Rinuccini: Vinci’s poem, the only one in the present collection to be devoid of an initial narrative recitative, opens directly with Olimpia despairing over Bireno’s abandonment, in a rhetorical climax that finds its dramatic fulfilment in the Presto of the second aria – which can be defined “of fury” – in which, in full respect of Rinuccini’s canon, the protagonist alternates imprecatio towards the beloved (“Horrid whirlwinds / let them arise / the most murky waves / in order to submerge / the traitor ») to his refutatio (“Ah no! Let them return / also the placid waves / ’cause he doesn’t want / so much this soul / who still loves him!”).