This seldom produced stage work is not only a musical revelation, but also an exciting discovery of how things were done during the Counter-Reformation, particularly on the Catholic side. Composed for the carnival season of 1631, this "Dramma Sacra Musicale" relates the story of one of the Church's earlier saints who was famous for his piety and humble poverty.
St. Alessio was the son of a Roman Senator who left his wife and family to retire to a life of solitary contemplation. After returning from Syria, he lived for 17 years beneath the staircase of his father's house disguised as a beggar, but endowed with heroic holiness.
The libretto by Giulio Rospigliosi (the future Clement XI) projects the character of Alessio with dramatic intensity and although the storyline is slightly embellished, the narrative element contains much that is interesting and makes for a sound text. Landi's music is very beautiful and in some places, he also mirrors contemporaries such as Schütz and Gabrieli in his grand treatment of scared passages.
William Christie has done a fantastic job in resurrecting this sacred drama which deserves its revival on many counts. Sound and soloist performances are naturally of the highest order and I cannot but recommend the set to all those who love sacred music with a penchant for the rare and obscure.
Copyright © 2008, Gerald Fenech