It’s dashing Domenico – composer of so many finger-pleasing harpsichord sonatas – that we all know today. But back in the eighteenth century it was his father who was the famous one. Alessandro was born in Palermo in 1660, trained in Rome and spent much of his life in Naples as maestro di cappella to the Spanish Viceroy. Though he wrote comparatively little instrumental music, his extraordinary productivity as a composer of vocal music outstripped even Vivaldi: leaving us with hundreds of motets, at least six-hundred cantatas and around thirty oratorios. But Alessandro’s main business was conducted in the theatre. He kept meticulous count of his operas, and when he finally retired in 1721 he claimed to have penned well over a hundred of them.
‘Figlio! Tiranno!’ was one of the highlights of Scarlatti’s last opera Griselda, first performed at Rome’s Teatro Capranica in January 1721. We join the opera at a moment of high tension. Ottone has threatened to kill Griselda’s child before her eyes unless she submits to his desires. In her aria Griselda is so choked with emotion that in the first section she can only manage to sing short, declamatory phrases punctuated by pregnant pauses as she glances despairingly at her child and Ottone. Scarlatti brilliantly organizes these melodic snatches into a coherent whole which is given impetus and dramatic momentum by the nervy scrubbing of the strings in the background.