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Briefly Noted: More Operas in Vivaldi Edition, Part 1

available at Amazon
A. Vivaldi, Catone in Utica, T. Lehtipuu, R. Mameli, A. Hallenberg, S. Prina, R. Basso, E. Baráth, Il Complesso Barocco, A. Curtis

(released on August 27, 2013)
Naïve OP30545 | 160'40"
Vivaldi premiered Catone in Utica to great success in 1737 in Verona, using an abbreviated version of Metastasio's libretto, created originally for an opera by Leonardo Vinci a decade earlier. By the time Vivaldi got to it, the libretto was already pretty far from the facts of history, surrounding the final demise of Cato the Younger in 46 B.C., when he committed suicide in a particularly gruesome way. In the opera, Catone has taken refuge with Arbace, ruler of Utica, in what is now Tunisia, a role sung with a lovely sound by soprano Emőke Baráth (Vivaldi wrote the role for a soprano castrato). Here Marzia is not Cato's faithful wife but his daughter, sung with molten voice by Sonia Prina, in the role created by Vivaldi's protegee, Anna Girò. Soprano Roberta Mameli is a little strident at times but effective as Cesare (Julius Caesar), who seeks the hand of Cato's daughter Marzia, causing him to take care in the invasion of Utica. Mameli is particularly good in Apri le luci e mira and other arias that require more finesse, but also the brassy showpiece Se in campo armato (the role was created by daring soprano Giovanna Gasparini).

The story is complicated by the presence of Pompey's widow, Emilia, rendered in high-flying fury by mezzo-soprano Ann Hallenberg, lavish in ornamentation, especially in the sea-tempest showpiece Come invano il mare irato, which brings Act II to a big finish. A legate from Rome, Fulvio, sung forcefully by Romina Basso, is in love with Emilia, who is hell-bent on avenging her husband's death on Cesare. The only disappointment vocally is tenor Topi Lehtipuu, a talented singer who sounds a bit outclassed by the florid demands of the role of Catone and may not have been in the best voice either. The end of the opera, in which Marzia and Arbace prevent Cato from committing suicide and are then joyously wed, is a let-down. The manuscript of the opera lacks the overture and the entire first act. The sinfonia from L'Olimpiade stands in for the former, and Alessandro Ciccolini has reconstructed and, in parts, outright composed music for the first act. He is also credited with the creation of the cadenzas and ornamented repeats for the singers, which are quite brilliant. Alan Curtis and his ensemble Il Complesso Barocco are in their usual fine form.

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