Alessandro Stradella (1639-1682)
‘Ceaselessly I wonder, how to flee from sorrow, I know not the way’ – sings the character Artemisia in the aria ‘I burn, sigh and weep’ (‘Ardo, sospiro e piango’) in the music dramas La Calisto by Giovanni Faustini (Venice, Teatro Sant’Apollinare, 1651) and L’Artemisia by Nicolò Minato (Venice, Teatro Santi Giovanni e Paolo, 1675), both set to music by Francesco Cavalli. Whether Stradella knew Cavalli’s arias or Luigi Rossi’s earlier setting of the text as a duet for sopranos and thorough bass is not clear. It is however significant that, although Artemisia’s is in fact a soliloquy, just like Rossi Stradella decided to set it as a duet – albeit for soprano, baritone and thorough bass.
How to Flee from Sorrow is a musical drama on the inextricable lives and works of two fabulous seventeenth-century musicians, Alessandro Stradella and Arcangelo Corelli, who crossed paths in Rome in the 1670s. Devised by Alberto Sanna, written by Frank Cottrell Boyce and produced by Paola Nieddu for s’ischola, the play was premièred at the Capstone Theatre in Liverpool in November 2013. It featured Frank Cottrell Boyce in the role of Alessandro Stradella, Nicola Bentley as Agnese van Uffele and the music of Stradella and Corelli performed live by Alberto Sanna (violin), Marcello Scandelli (cello) and Michele Pasotti (lute). A radio version produced by the BBC and directed by Allegra McIlroy was broadcast by Radio 4 on 9 January 2016. Trystan Gravelle starred as Stradella, Harry Treadway as Corelli, Alice St. Clair as Agnese and Ralf Little as Carlo Ambrogio Lonati. Live music by Alberto Sanna (violin and direction) and the BBC Radio Drama Company (choir); pre-recorded music by Alberto Sanna (violin), Marcello Scandelli (cello), Michele Pasotti (lute) and Ian Percy (engineer); sound by Gary Newman (designer) and Tim Sturgeon.
The literary precedent for How to Flee from Sorrow is Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet of 1929, a posthumous collection of ten letters addressed by the more established poet to a young colleague seeking advice. Much in the same way, the senior composer Stradella advises Corelli on such vital aspects of the profession as money and prestige, patronage and freedom, love and death. And if Corelli does not actually figure amongst the recipients of Stradella’s extant letters, Frank Cottrell Boyce’s fictional account of Stradella’s extraordinary vicissitudes is nonetheless rich in historical texture reconstructed from the composer’s correspondence with patrons and friends.
‘These eyes know that a wretched heart
that sets sail upon these seas
blown by overpowering sorrow
increases the flood with his tears
blinded by grief he can find no harbour.
Ceaselessly I wonder.
How to flee from sorrow
I know not the way.’
Alberto Sanna © 2016