Notes and Editorial Reviews
A gently compelling piece, expertly and idiomatically performed, and recorded for the first time here.
Armida al campo d’Egitto
Rinaldo Alessandrini, cond; Furio Zanasi (
); Marina Comparato (
); Romina Basso (
); Martín Oro (
); Sara Mingardo (
class="ARIAL12">); Monica Bacelli (
); Raffaella Milanesi (
); Concerto Italiano
NAÏVE 30492 (3 CDs: 151:03
Text and Translation)
If you were around Venice in 1718, I envy you. It was a watershed year for opera. The lavish Teatro San Giovanni Grisotomo, the Teatro di San Moisè, and the popular Teatro San Angelo were joined for the first time in five years by the Teatro di San Cassiano, all four houses in competition with new, major operatic works. Fourteen productions were unveiled among them that year, featuring the music of such celebrated contemporary composers as Albinoni, Gasparini, and Orlandini. Vivaldi, operating for several years out of San Moisè—the theater that opened its doors in 1640 with Monteverdi’s now sadly lost
, and closed them a few years after premiering Rossini’s
Il signor Bruschino
, in 1813—worked with a young poet, Giovanni Palazzi, who gave way to the composer’s demands for a pre-reform libretto. As a result,
avoids much of the somber, dignified rhetoric and smoothly organized dramatic pace of Zeno and Metastasio, in favor of fantasy, melodrama, and independently structured arias.
For whatever reason, be it the San Moisè’s smaller size or budgetary concerns, Vivaldi’s orchestra for this opera was limited to strings, two hunting horns, and a solo bassoon. It was to the composer’s credit that he varied textures so imaginatively in
, and avoided monotony. No better examples of this are to be found than Tisaferno’s charmingly
aria, “D’un bel volto arde alla face,” in 6/8 time with a solo violin and cello weaving a tapestry of successive arpeggios around the melody, or the mix of fugato and sighing violins beneath Emireno’s “Il mio fedele amor.” The dramatic situations that the libretto expertly provides find Vivaldi in excellent form as well, but as usual with this composer, there’s little sense of character within the music. Its melodic-harmonic style is instantly recognizable in the same way as so many other Vivaldi works, but seldom moves away from his series of well-known, well-worn patterns.
It should be noted that this isn’t the full score of Vivaldi’s
. The edition used here employs the autograph in Turin’s Biblioteca Nazionale, missing its second act, roughly one-third of the work. Frédéric Delaméa and Rinaldo Alessandrini have done an excellent job of producing a pastiche result with a new act II, however. The conductor composed new recitatives in an appropriate style, while borrowing the music of eight arias from Vivaldi’s
Arsilda, La Senna festeggiante, La verità in cimento, Medea e Giasone, L’incoronazione di Dario
. (Three additional arias of the original second act survive in other sources.)
Much of the team assembled for the production will be familiar to enthusiasts of Baroque opera, and Vivaldi’s in particular. Furio Zanasi’s agile baritone is welcome as the Caliph, while Romina Basso’s darkly rich, well-produced mezzo displays admirable coloratura, pleasant cantabile, a variety of colors, and an attention to dramatic values in “Pensa che quell bel seno.” Martín Oro, a countertenor of notable vocal delicacy, is at his best in the haunting “Quando in seno alla tua bella.” Sara Mingardo shows more temperament in “Segui pur, chi t’inamora” than I’ve heard from this extremely agile but placid contralto before—and though it heads in the right direction, still more of the same would have been welcome in the key dramatic role of Armida. Monica Bacelli is in reasonably good form: accurate, bright, phrasing intelligently, though showing some breathlessness in “Languire costante.” Marina Comparato sounds a bit acidic and strident, though she exhibits the same ease with figurations put on display recently in Terradellas’
. Rinaldo Alessandrini isn’t the speed demon here that Sardelli and Spinosi are in the Vivaldi Edition operas; while remaining on the fast side, his tempos tend to greater variety, without ever achieving the manic gallop that afflicts his fellow series conductors who equate heavy ornamentation with fireworks.
In short, this is a strong production of an opera whose main interest, outside of its act II interpolations, are largely textural. If you’re following these Vivaldi releases along, I would place this below
(Alia Vox 9822), and
(Naïve 30419) in variety and brilliance of effect. Those are the ones I’d suggest investigating first, if you want to hear what the Red Priest could accomplish on the operatic stage.
FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
The Vivaldi Edition is a highly ambitious recording project conceived by the musicologist, Alberto Basso. With high quality recording released after high quality recording on the ever-enterprising naïve label, it can truly claim to be one of the most promising and significant recording projects of the twenty-first century. The plan - which is on course - is to have released by the time of its completion in 2015 all 450 autograph works of the composer that are now collected in the Biblioteca Nazionale Universitaria in Turin, where they have been at various stages of editing and publishing since the 1930s.
This latest offering, the
Dramma per musica (in three acts),
Armida al campo d'Egitto RV
699 (volume 44 in the Edition), is well up to the project's usual standards. The eminent and highly energetic Rinaldo Alessandrini leads this production with his Concerto Italiano, from whom the playing is light, full of life, appropriately delicate and yet punchy - as suits the libretto. Every one of the seven soloists is excellent; their delivery commends the work as worthy of close attention, despite the fact that
Armida al campo d'Egitto can't claim to occupy a space at the very top of Vivaldi's œuvre.
Armida is the tenth opera in the Vivaldi Edition; it's the second one to be recorded by Rinaldo Alessandrini (their first was
L’Olimpiade). It's a great success. Marking the end of Vivaldi's first period in Venice, it lacks music for Act II. Alessandrini has reconstructed it here using carefully chosen existing music of the composer with the assistance of the musicologist Frédéric Delaméa.
First performed at Carnival in 1718,
Armida al campo d'Egitto has Tasso's
Gerusalemme Liberata as its source. It's a revenge drama: the somewhat self-destructive, certainly determined, Armida (Sara Mingardo) has been abandoned by Rinaldo. She travels to Gaza to wreak revenge. Intrigue, deception, gesture, sorcery, malice, much rivalry and some misunderstanding all follow. Vivaldi's music (no small thanks to the libretto by Giovanni Palazzi) explores these emotions and experiences over and above any way in which the opera exposes events in a purely narrative way.
Arias, for example, unambiguously explain why the protagonists - Armida in particular - behave the way they do. Their emotions are reinforced by Vivaldi's astonishing orchestrations with colour, changes in tempo, choice of instruments. It's not a 'psychological drama' in the way we understand such a genre in the twentieth century. But
Armida al campo d'Egitto also consists of a credible critique of the destructive power of obsession.
Put another way, Vivaldi (and Palazzi) were true to Tasso. Significantly, the playing and singing respect this at every turn. There's no spurious bombast or garish effect. The remorse, malevolence, positioning for advantage and lack of detachment are all conveyed with musical dignity yet with great expression and involvement. Alessandrini has struck the idiom perfectly.
The book(let) that comes with this three-CD set runs to 135 pages, only half of which is the libretto - in French and English as well as in the original Italian. The rest contains useful background to Vivaldi, his operas, a synopsis, the singers and so on. How encouraging to see high standards maintained over half way into the Vivaldi Edition's progress.
If you've been collecting the Vivaldi Edition and/or love Baroque opera (there is no other currently-available recording of
Armida), you should not hesitate to get this excellent release.
-- Mark Sealey, MusicWeb International
Works on This Recording
Armida al campo d'Egitto, RV 699 by Antonio Vivaldi
Martin Oro (Counter Tenor),
Romina Basso (Mezzo Soprano),
Marina Comprato (Mezzo Soprano),
Raffaella Milanesi (Soprano),
Monica Bacelli (Mezzo Soprano),
Sara Mingardo (Alto),
Furio Zanasi (Baritone)
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