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The flamboyant lifestyle of Alessandro Stradella has tended to obscure his large output, so the foundation of a Stradella festival in Italy and its attendant recording project brings the prospect that we may come to know more of his music. The present recording stems from the 2016 festival and features one of his earlier oratorios (before 1677). Santa Pelagia is based on the story of a dancer and prostitute in Antioch who turned away from her glamorous lifestyle to convert to Christianity. In keeping with most moralistic 17th-century oratorios, the battle for Pelagia’s soul is fought between two allegorical characters, Mondo (World) and Religione, the latter aided by the only other character, Nonnus, Bishop of Edessa.

The brief (50-minute) oratorio moves swiftly through alternating recitative and short through-composed or strophic arias (there is just a single duet and one four-part chorus) with continuo accompaniment.

Despite the obvious didactic purport of the oratorio, much of the music is absolutely enchanting, never more so, it has to be confessed, than when Pelagia recounts the delights of her dissolute ways in a cantata-like sequence at the end of Part 1. This is delightfully sung and characterised by soprano Roberta Mameli, pure of voice and secure of tone, who also touches the heart at the point of Pelagia’s conversion. The remaining roles are much smaller and are all capably if not outstandingly taken, while the continuo work is fine. But this is unquestionably Mameli’s disc.

Brian Robins Read the full review on Agora Classica


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