The crowing glory of Naïve’s Vivaldi Edition has been the award-winning recordings of Vivaldi’s operas. Highlights from three of the operas are assembled in this 3-CD boxed set: La verità in cimento, L’Olimpiade, and the oratorio Juditha triumphans. Among the stellar casts are Philippe Jaroussky, Magdalena Kožená, Sara Mingardo, and Nathalie Stutzmann, notably led by Alessandro De Marchi, Rinaldo Alessandrini, and Jean-Christophe Spinosi.
Reviews of the complete operas whose highlights make up this set:
Vivaldi: L'Olimpiade - Highlights / Mingardo, Alessandrini
This is the first complete recording of this opera. A somewhat abbreviated version was available on Nuova Era a while ago, nicely led by René Clemencic and featuring some very odd singing by a male soprano in the role of Aminta, the servant of our hero, Licida, which was sung by counter-tenor Gerard Lesne. While those two bits of casting probably are more historically correct (the roles were taken by castrati at the premiere in 1740), the performers on this new recording, a female soprano (Laura Giordano) and female contralto (Sara Mingardo), are far better singers and are thoroughly believable. Enough about that.
The opera takes place around the Olympic games: King Clistene (baritone Riccardo Novaro) has promised his daughter Aristea (contralto Sonia Prina) to the winner, but she loves, and is loved by, Megacle (soprano Roberta Invernizzi). Into this mix comes Argene (mezzo Marianna Kulikova), who was romantically linked to Licida, who now loves Aristea; but because Licida has no chance of winning the Games he asks his friend Megacle to play, disguised as him. Megacle wins, but Aristea thinks it's Licida and is downcast since she loves Megacle; Argene tells the king about the switcheroo of identities. Licida is exiled but is later discovered to be the king's long-lost son. He's pardoned, he weds Argene, and Aristea and Megacle wed too. Alcandro (bass Sergio Foresti) is a confidant of Clistene's and shows up occasionally.
The performance is first rate, with Rinaldo Alessandrini leading his Concerto Italiano with verve and the type of clean attacks that this rambling plot requires. The secret is to make each recitative and aria an event, and he knows how to achieve just that. Most of the arias are scored for strings alone (in different formations) but there's never a sameness; when the winds show up they're very effective. Most of the arias are short--unlike those in many other Vivaldi operas--and tend to be allegro or faster; the action seems quicker than it is.
Sara Mingardo as Licida almost walks away with the show; her stunning contralto is used with grace and power and she gives us this character's many facets. Laura Giordano's pretty, light soprano gets through the showpiece "Siam navi all'onde" in Act 2 with incredible ease and virtuosity, and if she tends to undercharacterize elsewhere, it's the libretto's fault. Roberta Invernizzi is a strong, noble Megacle, the good friend and winner, and Sonia Prina sings Aristea's pretty, nice-girl music with radiant mid-range tone. The lower voices and mezzo Kulikova are all good but lack distinction. Vivaldi and/or Baroque opera fans will need no coaxing to buy this set; others might have to work a bit getting used to the format. But I doubt this performance will be bettered.
– Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com
Vivaldi: La Verità in Cimento - Highlights / Bertagnolli, Jaroussky, Spinosi
La verita in cimento ("Truth put to the test"), dating from 1720, is a superb, stageworthy work about a Sultan (Mamud), his wife (Rustena), his mistress (Damira), and the sons each of them bore on the same day many years before (Zelim and Melindo, respectively). The bastard has been raised as the true heir (for reasons too complicated to go into here), but now, late in his life, Mamud wants to make certain that the true heir is not robbed of his inheritance. (As the opera opens, he has just informed Damira of this fact, and she is hardly pleased.) Meanwhile, a foreign Princess, Rosane, is loved by Zelim but she is slated to marry Melindo (for political reasons)--though frankly, she seems willing to go where the power and money are. All of this makes Damira turn manipulative and upsets the whole court. It is happily resolved, behind the Sultan's back, by wife and mistress. The opera cannot be called comic, but there are wonderfully funny moments of overwrought behavior. The feelings expressed in the arias (24 of them, all da capo, all relatively brief)--jealousy, rage, sarcasm, love, disappointment--are vivid, bordering on ferocious, and they make the characters' strong personalities very clear.
Between January and April, 2002, conductor Jean-Christophe Spinosi and his Ensemble Matheus toured all over France with the work; it then returned to Italy (Bologna) after 282 years and was recorded soon after. Spinosi has his strings attack with vigor and veritable thrashing when the situation calls for it and he relies heavily on the most forceful beat in any given aria so that the entire show practically dances. Most of the scoring is for strings and continuo (including harpsichord, Baroque guitar, theorbo) in different combinations, but the addition of other instruments is magnificently thought out: sweet, pastoral flutes when Rustena is reflecting on her own innocence and prior happiness, trumpets accompanying Melindo when he declares his intention to disobey the cruel Mamud, and so forth. Between Spinosi's vast variances in tempos and dynamics, this is an opera in constant emotional motion and we can hear it even if we can't see it. The arias, alternating between sparkling, introspective, and ironic, are all suitably embellished by singers and players.
Gemma Bertagnolli sings the flighty Rosane's music vividly; her feats of high coloratura belie her sincerity but leave us liking her anyway. The outrageously low tessitura for Damira is superbly handled by Nathalie Stutzmann. Her dissembling reaches its peak in a third-act aria in which she advises the disconsolate Rustena to "add artifice to your truth...use tears as weapons," and the vocal line, to which she adds almost exaggerated portamento, has her slithering up and down the scale with what might be called an "audible sneer". The always wonderful Sara Mingardo (where would Baroque opera be without her?) is fierce as Melindo, certain in his refusal to be deprived of his throne and tossing off the roulades to prove it, and Guillemette Laurens, as Rustena, sings so beautifully that we are never bothered by the character's self-righteousness. Rounding out the cast is countertenor Phillippe Jaroussky--a great discovery--as Zelim, and Anthony Rolfe Johnson as Mamud, with somewhat weary tone but, as always, true authority and musical intelligence.
A trio, "Aure placide e serene", in which the rival half brothers and Rosane, the woman they both love, express their mixed feelings in a garden of citrus trees amid metaphors of breezes, babbling brooks and "lovely, innocent boughs", is as beautiful as Cosi fan tutte's famous "Soave sia il vento", and I suspect we'll never hear it more ravishingly performed. Sonics are just about perfect--clean, clear, and crisp. This opera and recording offer spectacular surprises.
– Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com
Vivaldi: Juditha Triumphans - Highlights / Kožená, De Marchi
Vivaldi’s only surviving oratorio‚ Juditha triumphans (1716)‚ with its strongly characterised roles and luxuriant orchestration‚ is a true Baroque masterpiece. Like Handel’s Roman oratorio‚ La Resurrezione (1708)‚ Vivaldi’s Venetian Juditha was designed to impress its audiences. The Ospedale della Pietà‚ where Vivaldi was maestro dei concerti‚ competed with three other similar institutions for the patronage of wealthy Venetians‚ and the annual Lenten performances offered the perfect opportunity.
Alessandro de Marchi has departed from other recent interpreters by daring to transpose the tenor and bass choral parts up an octave‚ as is widely believed was done by Vivaldi himself to accommodate the choir of the Pietà. The effect is breathtaking: the compressed‚ female choral textures positively gleam‚ especially in the music depicting the Assyrian cause (for example‚ the rousing chorus that opens Part 1) or the aspirations of the Jews (the hushed prayer that ends Part 1 and the celebration that concludes the oratorio). From his superb cast of female soloists‚ de Marchi coaxes remarkable and dramatically convincing male vocal timbres. Maria José Trullu projects the various sides of Holofernes‚ who is depicted not merely as a monster but as capable of dignity and charm (‘Nil arma‚ nil bella’ and ‘Sede‚ o cara’)‚ even if ultimately incautious; she infuses her tone with a warmth and richness that countertenors might envy. Marina Comparato‚ as Holofernes’ loyal aidedecamp‚ Vagaus‚ sings lithely in Part 1 and gently in Part 2 before his shocked discovery of Holofernes’ headless body – in a gripping passage of recitative – impels him to seek vengeance. Tiziana Carraro as Ozias appears only in Part 2‚ confidently predicting the end of the ‘godless enemy’ and intoning timely prayers. Magdalena Kozená‚ the Bethulian widow Judith‚ casts a spell on those who only hear her: as well as Holofernes. She sings with poise almost throughout‚ as she enters the enemy camp (‘Quocum Patriae me ducit amore’)‚ meets and seduces Holofernes‚ reflects on the transitoriness of life and prays for peace and strength before murdering the sleeping Holofernes (‘In somno profundo’). Only then‚ as she carries out her heroic – if horrific – mission does she fully convey her emotion (track 14 of the third disc). As her handmaiden Abra‚ Anke Herrmann‚ lighter in voice‚ sings neatly of her selfless loyalty and encouragement to Judith. Listeners will note that in lieu of ensembles‚ Vivaldi cast many of his recitatives as carefully crafted dialogues.
The instrumentation offers a veritable treasure trove of unusual and evocative instruments‚ even for the time: a pair of clarinets to characterise the dissolute Assryian soldiers‚ recorders for ‘nocturnal breezes’ and a quartet of theorbos to depict the preparation of the feast. For Judith there is a chalumeau imitating a turtledove‚ a viola d’amore‚ a mandoline and a contemplative consort of ‘viole all’inglese’ to accompany her prayers; for Holofernes there is a solo oboe. These and the more common obbligato and continuo instruments of the day are affectingly played by the musicians of the Academia Montis Regalis. To address the loss of the opening sinfonia‚ de Marchi‚ like the conductors before him‚ turned to Vivaldi’s concertos and chose RV562‚ composed at much the same time as Juditha and in the preferred key of D major‚ with a suitably military Allegro followed by a suspenseful Grave. At every turn there is ample evidence of the care de Marchi has lavished on this performance: the returns of the first sections of arias (the da capos) are ornamented and‚ rather exceptionally‚ introduced by stylishly improvised transitions‚ most often by one of the harpsichordists (you will also hear a wonderful example connecting the movements of the Sinfonia). By comparison with de Marchi’s strongly projected‚ dramatically engaging reading‚ Robert King’s seems less fullblooded and relatively static. Congratulations all round for an outstanding recording. Let’s hope that another Vivaldi oratorio turns up soon!
– Gramophone