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Briefly Noted: More Operas in Vivaldi Edition, Part 2

available at Amazon
A. Vivaldi, Orlando furioso (1714), R. Novaro, R. Basso, Modo Antiquo, F. M. Sardelli

(released on November 13, 2012)
Naïve OP30540 | 160'40"
Orlando furioso is Vivaldi's most famous opera, having been known in modern revival since the 1970s, and it was already recorded for Naïve's Vivaldi Edition in 2005, by Jean-Christophe Spinosi and Ensemble Matheus. A few years ago, I took note of an earlier recording of that work by Federico Maria Sardelli and Modo Antiquo, re-released on the CPO label, lamenting that the singing was not quite up to the standard of the instrumental playing in that version. Sardelli has now made a recording of Orlando furioso for the Vivaldi Edition, but not of the more famous 1727 opera of that title. Sardelli delved into a little-understood corner of the Vivaldi works list, an opera also called Orlando furioso, which was premiered at Venice's Teatro S. Angelo in 1714, when Vivaldi served as impresario there. The work was long considered to be a revision of an Orlando furioso by another composer, Alberto Ristori, which Vivaldi had presented at the same theater the previous season. In fact, musicologists now argue, Vivaldi kept the manuscript of this 1714 Orlando furioso in his library because it was actually his own. Vivaldi had begun with the skeleton of Ristori's 1713 opera but stripped away that composer's arias, replacing them with his own -- some recycled from his earlier operas Ottone in Villa and Orlando finto pazzo, others newly composed -- and revised many of the recitatives. As such, it can now be examined as a sort of first draft of what Vivaldi would do with the same libretto, by Grazio Braccioli, in his later opera.

A pleasing discovery in this recording is soprano Teodora Gheorghiu (no relation), sweet and bright as Angelica, the beauty who flees Orlando with her lover Medoro (sung in a convincingly countertenorish way by contralto Delphine Galou, a woman sounding like an effeminate man), assisted by Alcina, sung by Romina Basso, who draws out the more venomous side of her voice as the treacherous sorceress who helps Angelica escape Orlando, thereby rendering the great hero insane. As the warrior-maiden Bradamante, Gaëlle Arquez is not as polished at all times but suitably virago-like, bravura enough to carry the show-stopping Amero costante sempre at the conclusion of the first act, while Canadian countertenor David DQ Lee does not quite cut it as Ruggiero, the lover of Bradamante, a pleasant voice without the gravitas for the role (for example, a little too wilting violet in the aria Piangero, sin che l'onda del pianto). Soprano Roberta Mameli takes off in the minor role of Astolfo, singing Ah, fuggi rapido with all the fury she can muster. In a major difference from the direction Vivaldi took with this story in the 1727 version, he gives the role of Orlando to a baritone, here sung by Riccardo Novaro, who has a way of singing that sounds too often just a shade too much under the pitch and without much beauty in the tone. Modo Antiquo's playing is as crunchy and delightful as it was on their earlier recording of the 1727 version, with the figuration of both harpsichordist Giulia Nuti and theorbist/guitarist Simone Vallerotonda standing out for its invention.

Vivaldi's manuscript for this opera is missing the third act, and Sardelli has wisely decided not to try to reconstruct (or compose) music to replace it. (See the recording of Catone in Utica in the same series for a contrasting approach, with its first act by 21st-century composer Alessandro Ciccolini.) Many of the instrumental parts are missing from arias in the first two acts, too, which Sardelli has attempted to restore, working from little more than a continuo part and vocal line, precious "Vivaldian fragments" -- as he put it in an informative booklet essay, "it was rather like a painting whose colors have faded, leaving a faint but still perceptible trace." Likening his reconstruction work to what an apprentice painter would do to finish a work left incomplete by a master, he has filled out those shapes -- including using the D major concerto, RV 781, for the overture, with the two solo parts played by hard-working oboes rather than trumpets -- to give us, if not exactly what Vivaldi created, something that allows us to appreciate the work on its own terms, rather than as a footnote in a musicological article.

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