musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Antonio VIVALDI (1678 - 1741): "Arie per tenore"

Topi Lehtipuu, tenor
Coro della Radiotelevisione svizzera; I Barocchisti
Dir: Diego Fasolis

rec: April & May 2010, Lugano, Radiotelevisione svizzeria (Auditorio 'Stelio Molo')
Naïve - OP 30504 (© 2010) (65'28")

Arsilda, regina di Ponto (RV 700): La tiranna avversa sorte (1st and 2nd version); Va per selve e sol pien d'ira; Va superbo quel vassallo; Artabano, re de' Parti (RV 701): Cada pur sul capo audace; Bajazet (RV 703): Andiam Prence, seguiamla - A' suoi piedi Padre esangue, recitative and aria; Concerto for strings and bc in C (RV 110); Dorilla in Tempe (RV 709): Dell'aura al sussurrar, chorus; Nume tu che di Tempe - Gemiti e lagrime, accompagnato and chorus; Farnace (RV 711): Alle minacce die fiera belva; L'incoronazione di Dario (RV 719): Cessa tiranno amor; Col furor ch'in petto io serbo; Fido amante (instrumental fragment); Il Tigrane (RV 740): Care pupille; La costanza trionfante (RV 706): Non sempre folgora; La verità in cimento (RV 739): Vinta a piè d'un dolce affetto (2nd version); Tito Manlio (RV 778): Già lasciò la nobil salma; Il figlio, il reo; La fatal sentenza

Ermes Pecchinini, Diner Maccaferri, horn; Fiorenza De Donatis, Marco Bianchi, Svetlana Fomina, Carlo Lazzaroni, Claudio Mondini, Davide Monti, Andrea Rognoni, Alberto Stevanin, violin; Massimo Piva, viola; Mauro Valli, Marco Testori, cello; Alberto Guerra, bassoon Michele Pasotti, Gian Giacomo Pinardi, lute; Roberto Loreggian, harpsichord

If one looks at the operas written between the mid-17th and mid-18th centuries one thing is particularly striking: the absolute dominance of high voices. That wasn't always the case: in the earliest operas tenors had important roles, sometimes even the title role, as in Monteverdi's Orfeo. Later on the sopranos gained the ascendancy and became the stars of the show, in particular the castratos. The preference for high voices wasn't restricted to the theatre, it was part of the aesthetics of the time. Chamber cantatas were also mostly scored for soprano. Among the about 600 cantatas by Alessandro Scarlatti, for instance, very few are for lower voices.

The operas from the first half of the 18th century reflect the same preference. Handel's operas seldom featured an important role for a tenor. If there are any tenor roles these are mostly minor, like servants. They don't have much to sing, sometimes not even a complete aria. The basses are mostly generals or villains, but the heroes are always sopranos or altos. Recently the operas by Vivaldi attract great attention. A number of them have been recorded, mostly as part of Naive's unfolding Vivaldi project. In these operas high voices often play the key roles as well. But Vivaldi had a vivid interest in the tenor voice, as Frédéric Delaméa explains in the booklet of this disc.

In his music at large we don't find many important parts for the tenor voice. Most of his religious music was written for the girls of the Ospedale della Pietà, and as a result there are no tenor parts. If he wrote a part for a tenor, it was often quite demanding, as is the case with the Dixit Dominus (RV 807) ( In my review I especially mentioned the brilliant tenor aria 'Dominus a dextris tuis'. I don't know - and it was not mentioned - for whom this part was written, but it could be one of the tenors who participated in Vivaldi's operas.

In his liner notes Frédéric Delaméa mentions several tenors who sang major roles in his operas. It is remarkable that these roles were not just given to a tenor who happened to be available: Vivaldi actively looked for tenors. Delaméa describes his activities in this department as a "hunt for tenors". One of his prey was Annibale Pio Fabri who was engaged by Vivaldi at an early stage in his career. The arias in Arsilda and L'Incoronazione di Dario, performed in 1716 and 1717 respectively, were written for him. And just as Handel composed many of his arias with one particular castrato in mind, Vivaldi explored the qualities of this and other tenors in his. Antonio Barbieri, for instance, was known for the elegance of his singing, and this has found its expression in the tenor arias in La verità in cimento (1720) and Tigrane (1724).

Three arias in the programme are from Tito Manlio, not the opera Vivaldi composed in 1719, but from an opera to which he contributed the third act in 1720. Acts one and two were composed by Gaetano Boni and Giovanni Giorgi respectively. For this third act Vivaldi used some of the arias from his own opera, but the rest was written specifically for this new version. The three tenor arias recorded here were written for Giovanni Paita, who was known for his virtuosity but also for his talent as an actor. This explains that the arias belong to the most dramatic of this disc. I don't know if these three arias also appeared in Vivaldi's own version of Tito Manlio. And as I don't have that many operas by Vivaldi in my collection I wasn't able to check which of the arias on this disc have been recorded before as part of complete recordings. But even if that is the case, this disc is interesting in that it sheds light on a specific aspect of Vivaldi's compositional output. And it is always good to get to know the names of the singers for whom the great masters of the 18th century composed their arias. In addition, this disc contains two versions of the same aria - 'La tiranna avversa sorte' from Arsilda - and the second version of the aria 'Vinta a piè d'un dolce affetto' from La verità in cimento. It seems very likely at least some of these are recorded here for the first time. That could also be the case with the aria 'Non sempre folgora' which is from the opera La costanza trionfante of 1716, which has not as yet been recorded.

Topi Lehtipuu was born in Australia from Finnish parents. He may be not very well-known yet, he has made quite a career already, and is generally considered a specialist in early as well as contemporary music. He has a very agile voice, and no technical problems in performing the often virtuosic coloraturas in Vivaldi's arias. I Barocchisti frequently play this kind of repertoire, and have also recorded Handel's opera Faramondo, again under the direction of Diego Fasolis. Some arias come off well, for instance 'Cessa tiranno amor' from L'incoronazione di Dario. Also good is the dramatic aria 'Alle minacce di fiera belva' from Farnace; it is about a huntsman, and therefore parts for horns are included, brilliantly played by Ermes Pecchinini and Dimer Maccaferri.

Reasonably good are 'Già lasciò la nobil salma' (Tito Manlio) and 'Vinta a piè d'un dolce affetto' (La verità in cimento). But unfortunately these are the exceptions. Overall the singing of Topi Lehtipuu lacks differentiation. Too often he gives equal weight to all notes, and as he mostly sings pretty loud that becomes quite tiresome after a while. Even when he sings piano, as in the B part of 'Il figlio, il reo' (Tito Manlio), there is little differentiation in dynamics between the notes. 'Care pupille' (Tigrane) is one of the arias written for Antonio Barbieri, famous for the elegance of his singing. But here I couldn't find much elegance in the way Lehtipuu treats it. The first version of 'La tiranna avversa sorte' (Arsilda regina di Ponto) "revealed a more intimate aspect of [Annibale Pio] Fabri's talent", Frédéric Delaméa writes. But again, very little intimacy is to be found here; it is just too straightforward. What is also disappointing is the consistent use of vibrato. This is not in line with what we know about the use of vibrato in the baroque era.

It is good that Vivaldi's music is getting colourful and theatrical performances, also instrumentally. We have become used to that from the many performances of his music by Italian ensembles like Europa Galante or Concerto Italiano. But some performers tend to exaggerate, and that is the case here. I Barocchisti mostly play (very) fast and (very) loud. It is as if they are consistently in overdrive. Like Topi Lehtipuu's singing it isn't very speech-like. I would have liked them to take some time to breathe. There is no relaxation, they just go on and on relentlessly. They seem to take a breather in the A part of 'Va superbo quel vassallo' (Arsilda regina di Ponto), but in the dacapo they return to their usual fast and furious style of playing. The habit of holding the last note long becomes a bit stereotypical. And the ending of 'Col furor ch'in petto io serbo' (L'incoronazione di Dario) is outright ugly: they take a pause, and then the last chord gets a loud bang.

This way of playing makes a caricature of Vivaldi's music which is much more than fast and loud. And the arias deserve a more differentiated approach than they are given here. As interesting as the programme is, the performances leave much to be desired.

Johan van Veen (© 2010)

Relevant links:

Topi Lehtipuu

CD Reviews