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Gramophone: Awards Issue (2010) 
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Reviewer: David Vickers

Lovers of 18th-century opera might be familiar with the tale of the crusader Rinaldo distracted from his duty by his entanglement with the seductive Damascene sorceress Armida. Giovanni Palazzi’s libretto Armida al campo d’Egitto is freely adapted from subsequent incidents in Tasso’s epic Gerusalemme liberata and concerns the enchantress’s capricious meddling while she resides among the Caliph’s Islamic army in Gaza. The first production of Vivaldi’s setting took place at Venice’s tiny Teatro Guistiniano di San Moisè during the 1718 Carnival but the music of Act 2 is now lost: the missing middle part has been reconstructed with admirable sense, integrity and openness by Alessandrini and Frédéric Delaméa.

Naïve’s latest operatic instalment in its epic Vivaldi Edition offers plenty of musical details to admire. The recitatives during the opening scene are sterile, without sufficient sense of dramatic occasion, but subsequently the singers usually characterise their parts neatly. Raffaella Milanesi, Marina Comparato and Romina Basso are all on fine form as the disputing participants in a complex network of quarrelling lovers. Alessandrini’s shapely and sensitive direction gets the best out of Monica Bacelli and Martín Oro; some of the latter’s technical frailties are exposed in Tisaferno’s pathetic “Quando in seno”. Surprisingly Furio Zanasi lacks the authoritative presence that the Egyptian Caliph ought to possess but duets shrewdly with a bassoon in “Chi alla colpa fa tragitto”. Sara Mingardo seems to relish the machinations and flirtations of the titlerole; her Act 3 showpiece “Tender lacci tù volesti” is the only aria to feature horns. Almost all other music is scored simply for strings and continuo but within such economical instrumental parameters Vivaldi creates delightful and versatile accompaniments: Tisaferno’s “D’un bel volto arde alla face” features the delicate sonority of a lightly tripping bass part (harpsichord, violins and violas) over which obbligato violin and cello alternate graceful arpeggios; creeping strings gently convey Emireno’s hopefulness that his unrequited love will change but also hint that he entertains little real optimism (“Il mio fedele amor”); Armida’s jaunty “Tra l’oscura di nimbi e procelle” juxtaposes concertino and ripienists; divided violas provide a denser tempestuous texture for Adrasto’s “Agitata de venti dall’onte”.

Alessandrini’s direction is unfailingly astute and he conveys playfulness in elegant ways. Concerto Italiano’s violinists play with alert finesse. Armida does not seem to be one of Vivaldi’s most impressive works, notwithstanding a compelling final act, but it receives one of the most convincing performances of Naïve’s series so far.

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