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Vivaldi Edition: La fida ninfa

available at Amazon
Vivaldi, La fida ninfa, S. Piau, P. Jaroussky, S. Mingardo, Ensemble Matheus, J.-C. Spinosi

(released on February 24, 2009)
Naïve OP 30410
Naïve continues to release its superlative series of discs called the Vivaldi Edition, the best of what the partnership between musicology and performing ensembles has to offer. Jean-Christophe Spinosi and the Ensemble Matheus, after contributing a memorable 2006 recording of Vivaldi's Griselda to the series, return with this new recording of another unknown Vivaldi opera, La fida ninfa. The secret of Griselda's success was the stupendous cast that Spinosi assembled, and he has done it again with this rescue opera composed by il prete rosso for the grand opening of Verona's new opera theater designed by Francesco Bibiena, the Nuovo Teatro Filarmonico, on January 6, 1732. The singers sound impressive just listed on the page -- Sandrine Piau, Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Philippe Jaroussky, Sara Mingardo -- and the results in sound are universally delightful. And, let's face it, the only reason to listen to most Vivaldi operas is for daring and gorgeous singing.

Francesco Maffei's libretto involves the usual mistaken identities among paired lovers, with the twist that the assumed names of one of the men is the actual name of the other man. Pirates, in addition to their demanding work of rerouting maritime commerce, also provoke all kinds of operatic trouble, in this case by kidnapping two brothers from the Aegean island of Skyros -- just not at the same time, so that the young men do not know they are brothers. The pirates then also abduct a shepherd and his two daughters from Skyros, and one of the daughters happens to have been betrothed to one of the brothers, whom she now believes to be the wrong brother because of the name mix-up. Arias ensue, but eventually all confusion is resolved and the prisoners all go home to Skyros. Juno protects them from a storm on the voyage home, predicting that one day their story will appear on the stage of a new theater in Italy.

Sandrine Piau scintillates in the high-flying showpieces for Licori (the role with much of the opera's best music, created by the evidently talented soprano Giovanna Gasperini), especially in the breathtaking embellishments added to the da capo repeats (as in Alma oppressa da sorte crudele in Act I -- leaving Cecilia Bartoli in this performance behind in the dust). Piau also glides effortlessly and silkily through slow arias like Amor mio, la cruda sorte in Act II and the devastatingly beautiful Dalla gioia e dall'amore in Act III. Verónica Cangemi sets off some fireworks of her own in the lead male role (Morasto was created by soprano castrato Giuseppe Valentini), with a darker tone and athletic passage work in Destin avaro in Act II, a good example of the register-crossing bravura singing for which the castrati were famed, but a suave, contained sound on the Act III aria Dite, oimè, accompanied here (quite strikingly -- see video embedded below) only by Baroque guitar, played by Philippe Spinosi (brother of the conductor of the Ensemble Matheus). Contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux continues to impress in recording since her victory at the Queen Elisabeth Competition in 2000, singing with rich sonority and accuracy in Cerva che al monte in Act III. Sara Mingardo is a calmly maternal presence as Giunone (Big Juno).

Dite, oimè, from La fida ninfa, Verónica Cangemi and Philippe Spinosi
(compare to this version with Cecilia Bartoli)

For the male roles, Topi Lehtipuu acquits himself admirably as Narete, especially in the Act II lament Deh ti piega, singled out by Alex Ross recently when he chose this recording for his CD of the Week (complete with audio track). Countertenor Philippe Jaroussky has found noteworthy success in this sort of repertoire, and his tone is pretty if a little breathy as Osmino (created by alto castrato Stefano Pasi). One of the unusual features of this opera are some ensembles, a trio at the end of Act I and a quartet at the end of Act II, which are given beautifully balanced readings by this cast. The playing of Ensemble Matheus is as nuanced and tight as in Griselda, with the same exciting, buzzing sound on the overture as we noted of the group's live performance at the Library of Congress last year. Instrumental contributions are uniformly fine, with theorbo, guitar, harpsichord, and organ providing some varied colors in the continuo.

3 h 12


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Anonymous said...

That rendition of Destino Avaro you linked is terrible. She barked out 90% of the notes and even skipped a bit. She doesn't seem to be able to trill all that well in these fast arias, and her she even substitutes vowel sounds that don't even began to sound like those written in the score at times.

Mind you, that aria is hard as hell, but I wonder if it was a good idea for her to even take it up.