Le Concert des Nations, J. Savall
(released on December 27, 2011)
Naïve OP 30513 | 2h50
Most of the releases in Naïve’s Vivaldi Edition, the fruit of a quixotic project to record all of Antonio Vivaldi’s music found in the manuscript collection of the Biblioteca Nazionale Universitaria di Torino, are worthy additions to any library. This has been true especially of the box sets devoted to the Venetian composer’s operas, a body of music that has finally laid to rest the misunderstanding that Vivaldi was only -- or even primarily -- a composer of instrumental concertos. For over a decade, Naïve has been enlisting Europe’s best historically informed performance ensembles to record the operas as they are sorted and catalogued by scholars -- occasionally for the first time, almost always in the best possible performances available. (The cover art, featuring attractive models in unusual costumes, only adds to the appeal.)
In some cases, the cover model’s appearance is not entirely unrelated to the opera in question. In an authoritative booklet essay, scholar Frédéric Delaméa labels the latest opera in the Vivaldi Edition, Teuzzone, as “Vivaldi’s Turandot.” The similarity with Puccini’s opera is mostly limited to the fact that librettist Apostolo Zeno locates the action in China. At the death of the emperor Troncone, his consort, Zidiana, and two ministers, Cino and Sivenio, conspire to falsify his will, placing Zidiana on the throne instead of the legitimate heir, Teuzzone. Zidiana, hoping to retain her position of power, has designs on marrying Teuzzone herself, but his actual betrothed, a Tatar princess named Zelinda, works under an assumed identity to thwart Zidiana’s plans and save Teuzzone. According to the rules of opera seria, after much plotting and many reversals of fate, the work grinds to the prescribed lieto fine (‘happy ending’), with Teuzzone restored to the throne, and, like a good enlightened monarch should, pardoning most of the conspirators.
This is the first opera in the Vivaldi Edition from Jordi Savall and his Baroque ensemble Le Concert des Nations since their recording of Farnace, first heard on Alia Vox over a decade ago, was repackaged for (re-)release in the Naïve series in 2009. Savall conducts with dramatic incision, leaving the continuo playing to Marco Vitale on the harpsichord and Enrique Solinís on theorbo and the rhythmically energizing Baroque guitar. The recitatives are performed mostly to their dramatic potential, neither rushed through nor over-thought. The musicians of Le Concert des Nations are in good form, the lean string sound coming from just eight violins, two violas, three cellos, and one violone (double bass). The only unusual colors in the instrumentation are trumpets, oboes, bassoon, and drums, used by Vivaldi quite sparingly, but played here to the hilt.
The cast is generally good, if lacking any truly thrilling wattage. Vivaldi gave the two most important roles, Zidiana and Zelinda (always the Z names in operas set in exotic places!), to his two leading singers in Mantua, and Savall’s choices are fine but not exemplary. As Zidiana, mezzo-soprano Raffaella Milanesi is a little approximate in her approach to pitch, often scooping slightly and sometimes straightening out her tone in unpleasant ways, as in the strangely unaffecting aria ‘Vede le mie catene’. The Zelinda of French contralto Delphine Galou is more assertive of tone and sparkly in runs, with plenty of warmth in the moving chamber aria ‘Guarda in quest’occhi’. The singer who received the highest fee in Vivaldi’s premiere, according to recent research, was castrato Gasparo Geri, as the conspiratorial governor Cino. He received most of the best arias, like the showy ‘Nel suo carcere ristretto’, and in giving the role to a woman -- soprano Roberta Mameli -- Savall gets a lovely legato line, as in the gorgeous slow aria at the start of the Third Act, ‘Quanto costi, al mio riposo’, but the fast pieces seem less pleasing because slightly underpowered.
Vivaldi gave the role of the displaced son Teuzzone to soprano Margherita Gualandi, which makes one question Savall’s decision to cast instead a high countertenor, Paolo Lopez. He produces a pretty, slightly disembodied sound (the booklet identifies his voice type as “sopranista”) but with some unpleasantly shrill nasality in the heroic aria ‘Di trombe guerriere’ where he is outshone by the trumpets and drums, and the breathless ‘Sì, ribelle anderò, morirò’. Sivenio, a general who organizes the plot against Teuzzone, receives a cool, patrician interpretation from baritone Furio Zanasi. Egaro, a captain of the guard, has a couple of arias, sung originally by an alto castrato and here given to countertenor Antonio Giovannini, who reveals a clarion sound and solid technique in the dazzling runs of ‘La gloria del tuo sangue’. Makoto Sakurada takes the tenor roles, the emperor Troncone and the Tatar prince Argonte, both minor and without arias. The seven solo singers also form the pleasing chorus of people and soldiers heard a few times in Acts I and III.
See the libretto to Vivaldi's Teuzzone.
Ottone in Villa (2011)
Armida al campo d'Egitto (2010)
La fida ninfa (2009)