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Vivaldi, Atenaide, S. Piau, V. Genaux, G. Laurens, Modo Antiquo, F. M. Sardelli (released on October 30, 2007)
The Vivaldi Edition, the quixotic project conceived by musicologist Alberto Basso to record the music by Vivaldi found in manuscripts in the Biblioteca Nazionale in Turin, continues with this new release from Naïve. The restoration of Vivaldi's reputation as an opera composer has been remarkable. The article on Vivaldi in the 1980 edition of the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians does not even include the operas (over 60 of them) in the incomplete works list. This opera is in many ways the centerpiece of the Vivaldi Edition, recorded in Florence's Teatro della Pergola, the only 18th-century theater to have premiered a Vivaldi opera, Atenaide, and to have survived to the present time. The instrumental component is performed by another of the burgeoning crop of fine European historically informed performance ensembles, Modo Antiquo. Their delightful, wild-haired director, Federico Maria Sardelli, has assembled an extraordinary cast list, claiming that
Tito Manlio (2006)
Arie d'opera, with Sandrine Piau (2005)
Orlando finto pazzo (2004)
La verità in cimento (2003)
Juditha Triumphans (2001)
the voices were chosen not merely for their suitability for the characters they were to impersonate, but also in the perspective of an ideal succession, as heirs to the specific characteristics of the singers who gave the premiere, and whose vocal profile is well known to us.You surely cannot go wrong with any recording that features Sandrine Piau, Vivica Genaux, Guillemette Laurens, Romina Basso, and Nathalie Stutzmann. All of them give performances that are consistently impressive and, more often than not, exemplary. You can sample a few of them online: Vivica Genaux (Teodosio's "Al tribunal d'amore"), Sandrine Piau (Eudossa's "Della rubella"), and Nathalie Stutzmann (Marziano's "Cor mio, che prigion sei").
How are all these women able to share the stage? Well, the plot, a little complicated, concerns an imperial marriage, between the Greek princess Eudossa (Piau) and the Byzantine emperor Teodosio (the castrato role sung by Genaux). Eudossa has fled her former existence, when she was loved by Varane (created by the Venetian contralto Elisabetta Moro and sung here by Romina Basso), who previously knew her under the name of Atenaide. Varane ends up in Byzantium, too, and is soon betrothed to the emperor's sister Pulcheria (Guillemette Laurens, channeling Anna Girò, Vivaldi's infamous protegée). This does not sit well with Marziano (created by the Florentine contralto Anna Maria Faini and sung here by Nathalie Stutzmann), the Byzantine general who loves her. Add to this mess of relationships one of the emperor's attendants, Probo, who has been rejected by Pulcheria. Iago-like, he attempts to drive a wedge between Teodosio and Eudossa/Atenaide through deception, but all is set to right in the end.
It should be clear that the story is not the opera's main attraction, and musically this performance is most worthy listening. The only drawback is in the male voices, as the two respectable tenors pale by comparison with their female counterparts. As recently remarked of Paul Agnew's performance in a DVD of Rameau's Les Boréades, his voice tends towards a fluttery vibrato and discoloration at loud dynamics. The positives of Agnew's high notes tend to outweigh the negatives in the French repertoire, but here in Vivaldi (as Eudossa's father, Leontino), more tracks end up disappointing than not. As the conniving Probo, tenor Stefano Ferrari has a more pleasing tone but falls flat dramatically, just not sounding all that conniving. With minor reservations, this is a superlative achievement of significant musicological importance, only the latest in the generally impressive Vivaldi Edition.
Naïve OP 30438
Vivaldi, Atenaide, Teatro La Pergola, Florence