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Fanfare Magazine: 34:1 (09-10 /2010) 
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Reviewer: Barry Brenesal

If you were around Venice in 1718, I envy you. It was a watershed year for opera. The lavish Teatro San Giovanni Grisotomo, the Teatro di San Moisè, and the popular Teatro San Angelo were joined for the first time in five years by the Teatro di San Cassiano, all four houses in competition with new, major operatic works. Fourteen productions were unveiled among them that year, featuring the music of such celebrated contemporary composers as Albinoni, Gasparini, and Orlandini. Vivaldi, operating for several years out of San Moisè—the theater that opened its doors in 1640 with Monteverdi’s now sadly lost L’Arianna, and closed them a few years after premiering Rossini’s Il signor Bruschino, in 1813—worked with a young poet, Giovanni Palazzi, who gave way to the composer’s demands for a pre-reform libretto. As a result, Armida avoids much of the somber, dignified rhetoric and smoothly organized dramatic pace of Zeno and Metastasio, in favor of fantasy, melodrama, and independently structured arias.

For whatever reason, be it the San Moisè’s smaller size or budgetary concerns, Vivaldi’s orchestra for this opera was limited to strings, two hunting horns, and a solo bassoon. It was to the composer’s credit that he varied textures so imaginatively in Armida, and avoided monotony. No better examples of this are to be found than Tisaferno’s charmingly galant aria, “D’un bel volto arde alla face,” in 6/8 time with a solo violin and cello weaving a tapestry of successive arpeggios around the melody, or the mix of fugato and sighing violins beneath Emireno’s “Il mio fedele amor.” The dramatic situations that the libretto expertly provides find Vivaldi in excellent form as well, but as usual with this composer, there’s little sense of character within the music. Its melodic-harmonic style is instantly recognizable in the same way as so many other Vivaldi works, but seldom moves away from his series of well-known, well-worn patterns.

It should be noted that this isn’t the full score of Vivaldi’s Armida. The edition used here employs the autograph in Turin’s Biblioteca Nazionale, missing its second act, roughly one-third of the work. Frédéric Delaméa and Rinaldo Alessandrini have done an excellent job of producing a pastiche result with a new act II, however. The conductor composed new recitatives in an appropriate style, while borrowing the music of eight arias from Vivaldi’s Arsilda, La Senna festeggiante, La verità in cimento, Medea e Giasone, L’incoronazione di Dario, and Teuzzone. (Three additional arias of the original second act survive in other sources.)

Much of the team assembled for the production will be familiar to enthusiasts of Baroque opera, and Vivaldi’s in particular. Furio Zanasi’s agile baritone is welcome as the Caliph, while Romina Basso’s darkly rich, well-produced mezzo displays admirable coloratura, pleasant cantabile, a variety of colors, and an attention to dramatic values in “Pensa che quell bel seno.” Martín Oro, a countertenor of notable vocal delicacy, is at his best in the haunting “Quando in seno alla tua bella.” Sara Mingardo shows more temperament in “Segui pur, chi t’inamora” than I’ve heard from this extremely agile but placid contralto before—and though it heads in the right direction, still more of the same would have been welcome in the key dramatic role of Armida. Monica Bacelli is in reasonably good form: accurate, bright, phrasing intelligently, though showing some breathlessness in “Languire costante.” Marina Comparato sounds a bit acidic and strident, though she exhibits the same ease with figurations put on display recently in Terradellas’ Artaserse. Rinaldo Alessandrini isn’t the speed demon here that Sardelli and Spinosi are in the Vivaldi Edition operas; while remaining on the fast side, his tempos tend to greater variety, without ever achieving the manic gallop that afflicts his fellow series conductors who equate heavy ornamentation with fireworks.

In short, this is a strong production of an opera whose main interest, outside of its act II interpolations, are largely textural. If you’re following these Vivaldi releases along, I would place this below Tito Manlio (Naïve 30413), Farnace (Alia Vox 9822), and Griselda (Naïve 30419) in variety and brilliance of effect. Those are the ones I’d suggest investigating first, if you want to hear what the Red Priest could accomplish on the operatic stage.

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