LENOX >> Like Paris dispensing the golden apple, Jove descends from on high and declares Spring the winner in the contest between seasons. He rules that she deserves the laurel for the birth of the Hapsburg heir, who arrived from the womb during her bountiful reign.
Forgetting their spats over who gets the credit, the four seasons rejoice. The Hapsburgs will rule forever. Peace will return to the lands, enemies will flee, crops will flourish, the sun will shine
So ends Alessandro Scarlatti's "serenata" titled "La gloria di primavera" ("The glory of spring"), which the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra brought to Tanglewood Thursday night. Unfortunately, the boy died a few months after the work's 1716 premiere, and Scarlatti's homage pretty much died with him.
In other words, the San Francisco ensemble's resplendent performance, with Nicholas McGegan conducting five soloists (the four seasons plus Jove), was a revival. The very excellence of the singing and playing seemed to accent the sometimes plodding character of the work.
Does the story — for unto us a child is born — sound like Handel's "Messiah"? Well, "Messiah" was 25 years in the future. But Handel provides a touchstone. Signor Scarlatti gets off a few telling arias, but he is no match for the later master in continuous invention and characterization.
Until Spring finally triumphs about three-quarters of the way through, the writing for her sounds much like the writing for summer, which sounds like the writing for autumn, which sounds like et cetera. Poor old Jove enters complaining about having a sore hand from hurling so many thunderbolts. He sounds like your common party braggart and bore, though he does bestow the blessings of happiness at the end.
To back up a bit:
A serenata, it turns out, follows the conventions of opera seria, with recitatives alternating with da capo arias. Such pieces, according to the program notes, were usually one-offs, written for celebrations such as marriages and the birth of a prince. "Primavera" was composed for the court in Naples. Scarlatti was the court composer.
A few vivid arias jumped out of the flow. Winter got a martial aria with raging coloratura. Spring's clinching appeal to Jove was in a lilting dance rhythm with a nightingale accompaniment by a melodious wooden flute.
The stylish, pointed singing, with one exception, made the most of this material. Mezzo-soprano Diane Moore portrayed Spring as a kind of earth mother, rich in tones and bossy over the others. Soprano Suzana Ograjensek was a soubrette Summer, and tenor Nicholas Phan a heroic Winter. Countertenor Clint van der Linde, however, tended to blur his lines as Autumn. As Jove, baritone Douglas Williams wore a pompous air. Supertitles let the audience follow the action, such as it was.
As in their previous Tanglewood appearances, McGegan had his period-instrument orchestra playing with impressive unanimity and spirit. Isn't spring always a winner?