Notes and Editorial Reviews
Claudio Cavina, cond; Francesca Lombardi Mazzulli (
); Roberta Mameli (
); Valentina Coladonato (
); Maarten Engeltjes (
); Andrea Arrivabene (
); Marina Bartoli (
); Silvia Frigato
); Salvo Vitale (
); Alberto Allegrezza (
); Alessandro Giangrande (
); La Venexiana
GLOSSA 920918 (3 CDs: 148:07
Text and Translation)
Francesco Cavalli (1602–76) became the first composer whose professional success owed much if not all to opera. Beginning in 1639 he made a name for himself in the nobly patronized Venetian theaters of his day, and produced for the most part one to two operas a year before slowly tailing off in the late 1650s—all the while carefully fulfilling his obligations as organist at St. Mark’s. Changes in musical taste destroyed his international reputation after his death, not any lack of quality on his part. Only recently have there been signs of a reevaluation of his work, with performances that allow his music to demonstrate its full value.
Like so many plots in Italian Baroque opera,
’s has been criticized for a complexity that exists only when read in synopsis. As heard or especially as seen over its proper two-and-a-half-hour span, the work is about as easy to follow as several successive episodes in an intrigue-filled soap opera. Its three unsettled couples are well outlined as they jockey for love and power. Ironies abound. Prince Meraspe, who killed an enemy ruler in battle, disguises himself out of love to be near the man’s widow, but the class-conscious queen who reciprocates his affections won’t acknowledge them because he’s taken the role of a middle-class commoner. Queen Artemisia, who bans love affairs at her court in an effort to gain control of herself, finds in the end that only by yielding to love openly will she regain her equanimity, and thus her power. As its librettist, Nicolò Minato, wrote in the opera’s foreword, “I have endeavored to do nothing other than to present to you the characteristics of the human passions in a natural way.” One person’s natural is another person’s skeptical, but the blend of personal love,
, and worldly cynicism that the Venetian aristocracy found so compelling in
L’incoronazione di Poppea
15 years later.
Musically, the opera represents a point when fluid recitative in unpredictable meter could assume a more heightened open musical form or a succinct arioso that fell short of the aria. Numerous strophic arias already exist in many contexts, among them requested song (Eurillo’s “Il Dardo d’Amore”), expressive self-reflection (Artemia’s joyful “Zeffiretti placidetti” and Oronta’s lamenting “Dammi morte”), direct response (Ramiro’s brief but breathtakingly lyrical “Ch’io fugga, da te?”), and moments of repose (Meraspe’s “Aure tacete,” a particularly delicate example of the usual sleep scene). These are without exception placed to maximum theatrical advantage, and furnish a range of expressive possibilities in succession. Cavalli’s skill is never in doubt. He invariably sounds fresh and imaginative while limning emotions he’d musically visited on many occasions in more than 20 operas; Minato’s fine text always supplies the matter for his musical response.
I’m uniformly impressed with the women’s singing on this recording, beginning with praise for Francesca Lombardi Mazzulli’s exploration of the title role. It takes a powerful singer and a solid technique to mark the ambit of Artemisia’s violent emotional reactions, and she manages it all with no sense of holding back. The creamy mezzo of Valentina Coladonato (who made her debut in Cavalli’s
, and took master classes with Scotto and Resnik) makes for excellent contrast with the others; like them, she possesses excellent breath reserves, a unified production across the registers, forward enunciation, and a focus that dazzles in its easy high notes. As Ramiro, Marina Bartoli supplies a lovely lyric tone with a fuller, richer sound, while Silvia Frigato’s light, silvery soprano is a delight in the way it easily moves with equal lack of pressure from note to note, regardless of tempo. My favorite performance here, though, is that of Roberta Mameli, whom I’ve previously praised for her Nerone in Cavina’s recording of
L’incoronazione di Poppea
(Glossa 920916). She has a very natural and distinctive flicker vibrato, a theatrical response to the text, and is equally effective in the bold coloratura of “Zeffiretti placidetti” and the melting heartbreak of “Ardo, sospiro.”
Countertenor Maarten Engeltjes impresses me with the beauty of his alto, and above all the delicacy of his cantilena singing (“Respiri, chiudete”). The unvarying melancholy quality of his tone, however, does little to bring out those patches of light in Meraspe’s seemingly endless dolefulness. Salvo Vitale sounds suitably clear and impressive in his thankless part, but seems inclined to add or subtract syllables in order to ease the line. Tenor Alberto Allegrezza has a slender but pleasant tenor that he shakes about almost continuously to create a funny servant. Countertenor Alessandro Giangrande as the elderly nurse Niso goes him one better, departing regularly from the line in wild
. Can anyone confirm from authentic sources that comic roles in Italian Baroque opera were meant to be performed as the vocal equivalent of Lou Costello?
Claudio Cavina is caught in excellent form. He mirrors each wild affective swing in the music of
’s new scholarly edition, and presents it all precisely without resorting on the one hand to sentimental dirges nor on the other to the kind of manic fireworks that left singers gasping in some of the Vivaldi Edition’s messier performances. Cavina is disciplined yet flexible, working carefully to support his performers, and pacing the opera judiciously. The 11instrumentalists that are part of La Venexiana secure a surprising range of color from their string band and continuo.
With excellent sound, this is easily the best performance of a Cavalli opera that I’ve yet heard on disc, and is warmly recommended.
FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
Works on This Recording
Artemisia by Pier Francesco Cavalli
Silvia Frigato (Soprano),
Marina Bartoli (Soprano),
Francesca Lombardi Mazzulli (Soprano),
Andrea Arrivabene (Countertenor),
Roberta Mameli (Soprano),
Valentina Coladonato (Soprano),
Maarten Engeltjes (Countertenor),
Salvo Vitale (Bass),
Alberto Allegrezza (Tenor)
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