Première of the Serenata ZWV177

  • I'm really looking forward to the upcoming recording of the Serenata ("Il Diamante") by Adam Viktora and Ensemble Inegal. Something that I didn't know but recently found out (from another forum member) is that the recent performance in Prague was not the first. The modern premi?re was in October 1992 in Aarhus in Denmark, under Soren Hansen. Another thing I learned is that the Vivaldi scholar Michael Talbot was rather negative about the work at the Zelenka conference of 1995, but he was apparently talking/writing about ZWV 277(!) :D
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  • I'm in Italy and I'm a friend of the soprano Roberta Mameli who plays the role of Giunone in Zelenka's Il Diamante. The choir where I sing regularly performs with Roberta. I bought the double CD and this is a real splendor music.
    Thanks a lot to Adam Viktora who has given us a music jewel!!!
    You can buy the CD on


  • Thanks for drawing attention to what may prove to be one of the events of 2010 for lovers of Zelenka's music.

    Please look at my listing of what is on BBC Radio 3's "Composer of the Week" programmes for 18 to 22 January and you will see that Il Diamente is scheduled to be in the Friday (22nd) programme. It will be my first chance to hear this music.

    The details on the website talking about Il Diamente make clear that this work from 1737 and what is known about the circumstances surrounding its production provide a whole new insight into where Zelenka belonged in the Dresden Court. It provides clues but no answers! What is clear is that many false statements have been made in the 1970's and 1980's about a forgotten composer. It is odd that in one important document, Hasse and Ristori get mentions - Zelenka just provides the music. A reassessment of the whole situation will be fascinating.


  • I would like to ask Alistair to consider including the two CD set of Il Diamente in his "Outstanding CD's" listing. It falls into a rare category of music for Zelenka and yet he has excelled again. I particularly like track 9 in CD1 and most of CD2 is fine music very well performed. It did not escape my notice that Adam Viktoria and his wife assumed the roles taken in 1737 by the conductor, Hasse, and his wife Faustina who is believed to have sung the final aria.

    Let us also thank D J Dresden for his excellent booklet notes. I am beginning to realise the debt we all owe to him for his mid-eighteenth century research work and I am longing to hear more about who lived next to whom in Dresden. For example (and what a fascinating example) W F Bach was a neighbour of Zelenka at one time. More diamonds please!

    Andrew Hinds

  • Hi, Andrew. Everyone I know who has listened to the Il Diamante recording has nothing but praise for it. I agree with you that it should be an "outstanding recording" on the Discover Zelenka website. If there is anyone who thinks differently, speak now or forever hold your peace... :)

  • The overwhelming dominance given to the Sopranos unbalances this work quite seriously, to the point that it becomes almost grating and hard to listen to near the end.

    Sure, many may say that this was the taste of the time(judging from operas by Handel and Vivaldi they are probably right, depending on what Castrati actually sounded like) and Zelenka probably was constrained by "political needs" but even one number for a low voice would have provided enough contrast to mitigate the tiresome effect of concentration on one vocal range.

    A fine performance and recording, with a lot of good music, so a Diamond it remains, but flawed it is.

  • Interesting point of view, Scott. I wouldn't have said that the absence of scoring for tenor and bass was necessarily a flaw in the music. That may have been stipulated by the powers that existed (either for practical reasons, or perhaps because one or other of the bridal pair was particularly taken by the soprano voice).

    On the other hand, I do think that the arias are on the long side. Having said that, I think that the work is still fantastic and that the recording should go straight into the list of recommended recordings!
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  • Quote from paperMoon

    ... I do think that the arias are on the long side. Having said that, I think that the work is still fantastic and that the recording should go straight into the list of recommended recordings!

    Zelenka always seemed to have a problem with keeping the length of his arias down. Janice Stockgit mentions somewhere in her book (I can't find the reference) a criticism of this by someone influential, such as the Elector.

    In the case of Il Diamante, this combined with the unrelenting restlessness of the music does easily make the work a bit overwhelming and grating if one is not in the right frame of mind or just simply tired after a long day at the office. You have to wait for the final aria of Venus for a bit of tenderness and calm.

    However, apart from one of the singers, it is a splendid performance of a scintillating work in a genre unusual for Zelenka. It deserves a recommendation.

  • As for the two points mentioned here, I want to point out the following things to be taken into consideration, but of course it is all a matter of personal taste:

    First, the evening before the Il Diamante concert, Hasse's opera Senocrita was premiered in the opera house. It was a five act opera, with ballets and intermezzo probably lasting 4-5 hours. The cast consisted of SSSSAA – almost the same as Zelenka's. I suspect the old alto Campioli did not sing in the Il Diamante because he was on his last meters and he retired a year later. Zelenka would undoubtedly have had an extra alto aria if Annibali had been in town, but he was in London singing with Handel's company. There was no good opera tenor during these years, and Götzel was primarily a church singer. The situation only changed when Amorevoli was hired from Naples after Crown Prince Friedrich Christian heard him sing there on many occasions during the summer and autumn of 1738. He arrived in 1742. As for the basses, Ermini was at that time only doing the intermezzo's, while Bahn was perhaps not availabe. Rietzschel lacked experience for the opera, as he himself stated in a letter I've seen here, he wanted to go to Italy – on Hasse's recommendation – to learn more. Sadly, he died in 1738.

    So, the scoring is for the best singers in Dresden, and those available to Zelenka and Hasse at the time. But I doubt they, or others, would have seen any problems in the balance of a setting like this. I certainly do not. It is the most natural thing. Does anyone tire of Zelenka's beautiful oratorio Gesu al Calvario even though the cast is for SSAAA?

    Second, as for the long arias of Zelenka, keep in mind that Il Diamante was Taffel musik, ie. it was performed while the King and Queen, bride and groom, and the other 81 guests were gorging on the fresh game being served on the brand new Meissen porcelain tableware. Hence the powerful opening of the work, a true "noise killer" as Michael Talbot so brilliantly coined it in his booklet notes to a Vivaldi Serenata. The purpose of such a loud opening was to get everyone's attention. As for the singers; every voice has one chance to shine, so the singers wouldn't mind the length of the arias; indeed it was a vehicle for them to show their virtuosity. Terra, incidentally, has two arias; I suspect Terra was sung by Maria Rosa Negri but was the other Terra aria perhaps sung by her sister Anna? If that was the case, then everyone was happy, everyone got their moment. And no wonder Zelenka can afford to drop the volume in the last aria of Venere, no one of the guests would have dared to utter a word while Faustina made her entry and showed her brilliance.

    Then, what is a long aria? Last night I attended Cecilia Bartoli's concert here in the Frauenkirche. Time and space disappeared while she displayed her great and unrivalled art. I wouldn't have minded if she would have sung forever. Some of the Naples arias she sang were what I guess you call long; so are some of arias Simone Kermes sings on a new and fabulous cd of Naples arias. Pergolesi 14 minutes, Hasse 10 minutes, Leo and Vinci 8 minutes plus. Cant' you imagine the joy of the singers to have the stage all for themselves for so long?

    Thankfully I do not have a problem with this or with Zelenka's long arias. And in the old days, he was never criticised for his long works as Osbert claims. The occasion referred to was in 1722. The Crown Prince at the time, August, later King and Elector, once asked Zelenka to shorten a work, as a result the Miserere was omitted. There was a reason for this (as Jan Stockigt has pointed out in her paper about the churchings of Crown Princess Maria Josepha); at the time Maria Josepha was pregnant and probably could not sit still for long. In fact she would have complications and the boy she gave birth to, the wonderful friend of music Friedrich Christian, was born with a congenital physical defect.

    Best wishes from cold Dresden,

  • Thanks for the wealth of information!

    As for the length of Zelenka's arias, am I wrong to think his arias are generally appreciably longer than Hasse's or Ristori's in both dramatic and church music?

    I usually don't mind the length when the arias Zelenka writes are so rich with ideas. It is probably the natural result of so densely contrapuntal and textural a style of writing, but it does mean that everything is always monumental with Zelenka.

    On another note, I don't think Cecilia Bartoli can be taken seriously as a singer of pre-1800 operatic music, despite her (or perhaps Decca's) pretensions about her on this score. How can one compare her to Ensemble Inegal's solo singers both as to expression and as to fidelity to Baroque style? So much huffing and puffing and over-acting, and such a thick, overweight and gluey-toned voice!

  • Really Johannes, perhaps you could put in a little thought and research into subjects before you post here. ;)
    (Please forgive my sarcastic humour. You are amazing! Thank you for providing context so vividly.)

    The issue of the length of Zelenka's arias has actually been on my mind lately, so it's interesting that others have brought it up first.
    Last night I did some pseudo-scientific statistics based just on the music in my collection, and this is what I arrived at for average aria lengths for Zelenka and his contemporaries:

    Bach solo cantatas, passions/oratorios 5:11
    Caldara La Passione di Gesù.. (1730) 4:10
    Handel oratorios 4:06
    Hasse I Pelligrini..(1742 oratorio) 5:54
    Heinichen Nicht das Band (1724 oratorio) 5:06
    Zelenka italian oratorios & serenata 8:29

    So there does seem to be quite a unique scale to Zelenka's arias.

    Also, just looking at Mass arias, Zelenka's averaged 5:08, versus 2:17 for Heinichen.

    On the whole I still have to wonder if Zelenka's relative unwillingness to constrain the dimensions his music caused some difficulties with his employers on occasion.

    Personally however, when I'm listening to sublime creations like 'Mire Come sue candide piume' from Il Diamante, or 'Che fiero martire' from Gesù al Calvario, I'm so transfixed that I have no sense at all that 13 minutes has passed!

  • Yes, the arias are long. The question is this: Why does he choose to write such long arias after 1730? I think the answer could be that he was giving the outstanding singers the tools to express themselves, he did not have to constrain himself, he could evolve his ideas, he could write what he wanted and it would be delivered. This was often not the case in the 1720s.

    Note that the arias, bar one, in the 1730 Il serpente di Bronzo are of normal length. But after the group of new singers, specially nurtured in Venice for the Dresden court (Heinichen and old Bach would have killed to work with these), arrived after easter that year, Zelenka's arias become longer(he might have felt liberated). First in the Italian Arias 1733 and then in Gesu al Calvario of 1735 and Il Diamante in 1737. I Pelligrini in 1736 is a special case. All the main singers were with the court in Warsaw, so he had a limited set of singers to choose from and that's why we have ATB. While the tenor gets a chance to shine the bass aria is "only" just under 6 minutes.

    Zelenka was also following the trends and changes taking place during the twenties and thirties, when the arias became longer and longer, in part because of the evolution of the Da Capo aria and the influence of Metastasio's texts, in part because of the rise of the super castratos such as Farinelli who needed something to chew on. For example, V. Genaux brilliant cd of Farinelli's arias has 5 numbers over 8 minutes. These changes have roots in Naples and Zelenka did know what was happening there, even before Hasse arrived. In Hasse's first oratorio for Dresden in 1734, of the 9 arias, 4 are over 7 minutes, including the beautiful 11 minutes of Notte amica. Here I'd also like to mention the newly discovered Quantz latin motet for a soprano, a unique piece of work that is thought to stem from his Dresden years, stylistically it's 1735-40. The two arias are 7 and 11 minutes and are obviously written with one of the Virtuosen in mind. I was taken when I heard this first as I thought this was our man. It is a wonderful motet and the two arias are near to the style of Zelenka, while the closing Amen is pure Naples.

    But then, as Osbert rightly points out, everything is monumental with Zelenka. It is a key aspect of his unique style. And true, some of his works are long. This was even noted in the Jesuit Diarium on occasion. But I do not think that this amounts to a criticism or a problem per se. In fact, one of the most amazing sources I have come across during my research, has a strong praise for a work by Zelenka and then gives an exact timing of the length of the work!

    And finally, I think the issue of length did not cause him any difficulties with his employers. Why not look at it this way: They were in a state of bliss like we are when listening to his music. And the way I read the sources (believe me, they do need to be re-interpreted), they loved him to bits.


    PS to Osbert: There is little point in trying to reason with me when it comes to Bartoli who I worship, not only because of her first name, but because she is the most amazing artist I have ever seen or heard. With full respect to all the others, including the wonderful singers of Ensemble Inegale (who I had the pleasure of listening to last Wednesday in Prague) there is no one that comes close! So free your mind, and give in to her superhuman powers:D

  • Quote from djdresden

    PS to Osbert: There is little point in trying to reason with me when it comes to Bartoli who I worship, not only because of her first name, but because she is the most amazing artist I have ever seen or heard. With full respect to all the others, including the wonderful singers of Ensemble Inegale (who I had the pleasure of listening to last Wednesday in Prague) there is no one that comes close! So free your mind, and give in to her superhuman powers:D

    You have now insulted my particular favourite soprano, Hana Blazikova, who is equalled in Baroque repertoire in her generation only by Dorothee Mields. Whatever you say about Blazikova she at least sings all the notes, does not go off pitch, is able to convey subtle emotions, has a sufficiently retrained vibrato to allow one to tell when she is and isn't singing a trill and also has a genuine trill (which was particularly prized in Zelenka's time). Where are my duelling pistols?

    I am impressed by the work everyone is putting in after Papermoon's and my comments about the length of Zelenka's arias. I think it is uncontroversial that Zelenka generally wrote lengthier arias (and choruses) than his contemporaries in Dresden. The point about the advent of better singers after 1730 is a little strained: why weren't all the other composers who had access to these same singers also suddenly increasing the length of their arias? Unless you meant this to be restricted to a point about Zelenka's outlook - in which case it just proves the point that he was rather long-winded. Thankfully, he always had a sufficiently rich fund of new ideas to make it work.

    The Quantz motet sounds rather enticing. I wonder whether it will be recorded soon.

  • Hi all,

    This is certainly a very illuminating thread, especially as far as the remarks of DjDresden are concerned. Fascinating literature!

    I have to confess – I kept thinking: mind your own business: never mitigate other people’s enthusiasm – that I had some difficulty with really appreciating the Serenata. The length of the arias, the amount of sopranos, both factors that complicate listening, but as DjDresden rightly points out, those elements don’t really create problems with an oratorio like Jesu al Calvario. Had some whether or not to share my doubts – but well, here they are.

    I was very happy when I received the serenata but got somewhat disappointed while listening –. In a certain way the music seemed to miss a certain sense of purpose, didn’t provide enough grip to me as a listener. But why? I remembered that Vivaldi/Albinoni scholar Michael Talbot had written an essay about the Serenata. To my amazement I read my own doubts there, perhaps a bit too strongly put, but very well-argued. He points out two main problems in the Serenata: both concerning the factor of length: “they are, respectively, the relation of length to structure and the relation of length to thematic content”. I think his words are well worth considering, so here some quotes.

    Regarding the first problem he uses the first movement of the sinfonia as an example. “[…] the music performs various modulations and includes several tonal ‘plateaux’ in the course of its peregrinations. […] The problem is that, given the greatly expanded time-scale, the ear loses its capacity to recognize, and be certain of, the difference between incidental and structural modulation: the music appears, simply, to meander back and forth without clear direction. Exactly the same problem occurs, mutatis mutandis, in all the arias.”

    The second problem: “True, the composer delves into his repository of favourite ‘Zelenkisms’ […]. And yet: because the factor of inspiration is absent, the music fails to spring to life and the themes become empty gestures. In fact, the very variety of device that Zelenka employs in every movement expresses his difficulty in getting the thematic process – the dynamic, organic development of material – to generate itself spontaneously.”

    But the music isn’t that much different from the music in the oratoria? Why isn’t it a problem in those works? Talbot doesn’t really answer this question explicitly, but well, here’s my idea. In a sort of way the often highly chromatic ‘countermotives’ used by Zelenka in those works always seem to have meaning: the ‘Affekten’, stressing the agony of Christ, are in their right place. In the serenata they don’t seem to function properly or meaningfully. Talbot uses as an example the ‘countertheme’ in the first movement of the sinfonia, occurring on the cd at 1’26. His verdict: “it remains an undigested, foreign body”. An other example is to be found in the highly sparkling hunting aria of Amore (nr. 9) where a contrasting countermotive arises at 0’49, but is it enough to create a certain rest and structure in this aria? To my ears: no. I am inclined to subscribe to Talbots analysis that in the serenata “the factor of inspiration is absent”. Perhaps Zelenka’s real heart is to be found in his oratoria, in the spiritual and religious…

    Well, I poured out my heart… But let me stress that it’s a great thing that this work has been recorded. Perhaps not as beautiful as the oratoria or the late masses, it still is a very rewarding piece. And let’s hope that the coming years may bring us many recordings of unrecorded works of Zelenka!

    Best wishes, Peter

  • I think you hit the real essence of the matter in your second-last sentence, Peter. It was never meant to be an oratorio or a late mass. It was meant to be music for a fancy wedding, played once.

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