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Briefly Noted: L'Olimpiade

available at Amazon
L'Olimpiade (pastiche of 16 composers), K. Gauvin, F. Gottwald, R. Basso, N. Phan, Venice Baroque Orchestra, M. Chryssikos

(released on May 29, 2012)
Naïve V 5295 | 2h03
The main reason that some opera composers in the 17th, 18th, and even 19th centuries could work so quickly and produce operas at such a startling rate is that they often recycled music -- their own, borrowing from earlier works that had failed or that were performed far away, or that of other composers. This fine new recording from the Venice Baroque Orchestra is a modern Frankenstein monster along those same lines, bringing together the most handsome bits of sixteen different composers' settings of the same libretto by Metastasio. The court poet to the imperial theater in Vienna, the Roman-born Metastasio was the most celebrated librettist of the 18th century. Almost all composers of Italian opera in the 18th and early 19th centuries, from Porpora to Gluck to Mozart to Mercadante, set one of his libretti at some point, and many of his libretti were set several times by different composers. None perhaps more than L'Olimpiade, known in "more than fifty" different versions, including those by the sixteen composers whose music is brought together on this new disc.

Metastasio wrote the libretto for a new opera by Antonio Caldara, performed at the Vienna court theater in 1733. The other versions excerpted here, each for an aria (or two or three), include some of those already recorded complete elsewhere: by Vivaldi (Concerto Italiano, among many others), Pergolesi (Academia Montis Regalis), Galuppi (Venice Baroque Orchestra, the research for which led to the idea for this new recording), Cimarosa (Venice Baroque Orchestra, no recording), and a few stray arias by others here and there. Most of the versions, however -- by Johann Adolf Hasse, Giuseppe Sarti, Josef Mysliveček, Giovanni Paisiello, Davide Perez, Florian Leopold Gassmann, Tommasso Traetta, Niccolò Jommelli, Luigi Cherubini, Leonardo Leo, Niccolò Piccinni, and Domenico Cimarosa, all requiring some musicological detective work around the world to track down -- you are unlikely to hear anywhere else for the foreseeable future. The pieces were selected around the changes to the text introduced by many composers as the libretto was adapted, so that all of the aria texts actually by Metastasio are included. No one will miss the recitatives that much: the story, drawn from Herodotus and involving two romantic pairings thwarted by deception and then set aright, all in the context of the ancient Olympic games in Greece, is not all that important, the connection to a certain athletic event in London this summer notwithstanding.

The singing features two robust mezzo-sopranos (Romina Basso and Franziska Gottwald) in the male castrato roles, two sopranos (Karina Gauvin and Ruth Rosique) as the women who love them, and the light tenor Nicholas Phan as the father who offers one of the women as the prize to the winner of the games. Countertenor Nicholas Spanos supports in the role of Aminta, the tutor of one of the friends. The conducting was turned over to Markellos Chryssicos, a Greek musician who was already working on a similar project when the project was begun by the Venice Baroque Orchestra, in excellent form as always.

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