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Antonio VIVALDI 1678 - 1741): "Heroes - Opera arias"

Philippe Jaroussky, alto
Ensemble Matheus
Dir: Jean-Christophe Spinosi

rec: July 2-10, 2006, Brest, Ecole Nationale de Musique, de Danse et d'Art dramatique (Auditorium)
Virgin Classics - 00946 363414 2 2 (© 2006) (63'15")

Andromeda liberata (RV deest): Sovente il sole; Demofoonte (RV deest): Sperai vicino il lido; Farnace (version 1738; RV 711): Perdona, o figlio amato; Giustino (RV 717): Deh perché – Bel riposo de'mortali; Vedrò con mio diletto; Il Tigrane (RV 740): Farà la mia spada; L'Olimpiade (RV 725): Mentre dormi amor fomenti; Orlando finto pazzo (RV 727): Alla rosa ruggiadosa; Se in ogni sguardo; Orlando furioso (version 1714; RV Anh 84): Cara sposa; Ottone in villa (RV 729): Frema pur, si lagni Roma; Tieteberga (RV 737): Sento in seno ch'in pioggia di lagrime; Tito Manlio (version 1719; RV 738): Vanne perdida va – Fra le procelle, rec & aria

About 10 years ago a disc like this had not been possible. Vivaldi had hardly been rediscovered as a composer of operas, and most of them were not available in modern editions. When opera singers were looking for baroque repertoire for their aria programmes they looked into the many operas by Handel. Today a number of Vivaldi's operas are available on disc, and they enjoy an increasing popularity among music lovers and interpreters alike. More and more share the view of the Venetian nobleman Abbé Antonio Conti (quoted in the booklet) who in a letter praised Vivaldi's opera arias as being "varied both in its sublime and tender passages". This is the basic idea behind this disc by artists who have a vast experience with singing the theatrical works of the Red Priest from Venice.

The fact that for a long time Vivaldi wasn't recognized as a distinguished composer of operas is not as strange as it may seem on the basis of what we now know about his output in this genre. Even in his own time his reputation was first and foremost based on his instrumental works. In fact, Vivaldi was already 35 years of age, when his first opera, Ottone in villa, was performed in 1713. But from that moment on he "produced a series of masterworks that make his one of the most important and prolific opera composers of the era", according to Frédéric Delaméa in the booklet. On the basis of this and other recordings of arias from the operas it isn't very diffficult to agree, but an opera is more than a collection of arias. Although I don't know all of Vivaldi's operas those I have heard so far have failed to convince me that in regard to dramatic development he is equal to – in particular – Handel. And I also think that often Vivaldi's arias are more interesting because of the instrumental parts than the vocal lines. There can be no doubt, though, that most arias on this disc are exceptionally fine in this regard as well.

In the baroque era it was common to give the leading roles to high voices, be it a soprano or an alto. Those roles were mostly sung by castratos, and so are most arias on this disc. One exception is mentioned in the booklet: 'Mentre dormi amor fomenti' from L'Olimpiade was written for a female contralto. It has to be added, though, that Vivaldi didn't care that much about what was common use, as he also wrote some virtuosic arias for bass, when a particularly fine singer crossed his path. (See the disc 'Arie per basso', with Lorenzo Regazzo and Concerto Italiano on Naïve – OP 30415). These arias indeed go from sublime to tender, as the quotation by Abbé Conti indicates.

The first and last items on this disc fall into these categories. They are from the same opera, Orlando finto pazzo: 'Se in ogni guardo' is a virtuosic bravura aria, whereas 'Alla rosa ruggiadosa' depicts bees flitting from one flower to another, symbolizing love directed from one woman to another. In between are other often remarkable examples of Vivaldi's ability to illustrate an idea or a mood in music. 'Fra le procelle' from Tito Manlio is about the title character being rescued from a storm at sea. The instrumental accompaniment shows strong similarity to the concertos with the titleLa Tempesta di Mare. Comparable with this aria is 'Sperai vicino il lido' from Demofoonte, written on a libretto by Metastasio, although it isn't quite clear whether Vivaldi did compose the whole opera. Only a few passages have been preserved.

Many operas in the baroque era contained rage arias as well as sleep arias. 'Bel riposo de' mortali' from Giustino belongs to the latter category. It is an aria of supreme beauty: the singer has a very fine and delicate line, with long-held notes on 'dolce sonne' (sweet sleep), and the instruments (muted strings, two recorders and two oboes, playing a siciliano marked 'andante') depicting the protagonist drifting off. One of the most brilliant pieces is the aria 'Sovente il sole' from Andromeda liberata, a serenata with contributions by several composers. Here it is not just the solo part which makes great impression, but also the obbligato part for the violin.

As I said both singer and ensemble are experienced interpreters of Vivaldi's operatic oeuvre. And in most items on this disc they give execptionally good performances, displaying all the qualities Vivaldi's music has. Philippe Jaroussky has a refined and delicate voice, which results in the tender arias faring best by far. It is the subtle side of Vivaldi's compositional art that seems to fit him specifically well. The more virtuoso arias are done pretty well too, and I was pleased to hear that Jaroussky sings the lowest notes of 'Sperai vicino al lido' mentioned above with his chest register, making them all the more dramatic. I also liked his rhythmic freedom in the couple of recitatives which precede some arias on his disc. Only in some arias, like 'Se in ogni guardo' fromOrlando finto pazzo, I felt that his voice is a little too light and fragile to be convincing. In those pieces I had liked a stronger and more extraverted performance.

On the whole this is a very impressive recital of some of Vivaldi's finest opera arias. The playing of the orchestra is colourful and vivid, and shows a great feeling for Vivaldi's operatic style. Every reason to recommend this disc, not just to the (many) admirers of Philippe Jaroussky.

Johan van Veen (© 2007)

Relevant links:

Philippe Jaroussky
Ensemble Matheus

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