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Fanfare Magazine: 39:3 (11-22/2016) 
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Reviewer: Alan Swanson

Of about 50 known Vivaldi operas, around 20 still have all or part of their music extant and, as near as I can tell, all of these have been recorded at least once. Many of these scores come in various versions, often revised by Vivaldi for different productions. The demands of assiduous musicology, however, and of producers looking for an advertising angle, are not to be slaked, apparently, by the mere existence of recordings, and here we have what is billed as the “Original 1738 version” of an opera first performed in 1727. The music for that first performance, and, indeed, that for five of the seven known productions in Vivaldi’s lifetime (RV 711 A-G) does not exist. The complete music for the production in 1731 in Pavia is still extant and that for the first two acts (of three) for the production that was planned for Ferrara during Carneval 1739 exists. Owing to various political/ecclesiastical machinations, however, this latter production never took place. Why its third act is missing is anybody’s guess.

Reinhard Strohm’s notes for this recording tell us that for Ferrara, as for most of the other productions, Vivaldi wrote some new music to meet the expectations and talents of new singers. Alas, his otherwise excellent notes have nothing to say about the editorial process, credited to Bernardo Ticci, for the performance here. As we learn from an interview the conductor, Federico Maria Sardelli, gave in 2013 for the Florence production of this version in that year’s Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, it is clear that the performance decisions taken here were largely Sardelli’s. Among them was to perform only the music remaining for this 1738–39 production. (The “original 1738” label seems, by the way, to take aim at the 2010 recording by Diego Fasolis, which started with the 1738 version and then reconstructed the third act.) Sardelli then told us that, because it was so beautiful, after the duet which closes the second act, he added a brief spoken recitative (to indicate it was not a part of the present version, un corpo estrano) and then let Farnace sing an aria, “Gelido in ogni vena” (Chilled in every vein), from the 1727 version of the opera (but taken, one must assume, from the 1731 score). Here, Farnace laments having had his son killed, which actually hasn’t happened. In fact, Farnace gets to lament this non-event twice, because, in its proper place in the second act, he also sings the quite lovely new aria Vivaldi wrote for that scene.

Scadelli also told readers of the interview that, because he could not be present for the performance, Vivaldi made extensive performance markings for the singers in the manuscript, and one must assume these have been followed here. In the interview, Scadelli further averred that he was “bored with modern pastiches and those who reconstruct arias [and] recitatives” (sono stufo dei pasticci moderni e di quelli che ricostruiscono le arie, i recitative—my translation). This represents a complete, and surprising, turnabout from his position only a year or two earlier, when he had not hesitated to make just such wholesale interventions in his version of Orlando (see my review in 36:5). Because the booklet gives us no information about the score used, musicologically this production is, at best, a mystery. That leaves whatever it is we have.

This CD recording is not claimed to be a live performance, but the presence of an audience quickly makes itself known by frequent applause, and the boxy in-house sound of the orchestra and on and off-stage murmuring (as well as one especially rough splice) convinces us we are there.

I have not given a summary of Antonio Maria Lucchini’s story—which is by any way of looking at it among the most convoluted ever purveyed for any opera seria—because, crucially, Dynamic has not bothered to give us a libretto of this essentially unknown opera and, to be honest, after the opening line of each track, vouchsafed us in the “Track List,” it is quite difficult to distinguish just what the singers are going on about and, indeed, just who it is that is singing. The synopsis is helpful, and who sings the arias is noted in that track list. The only available electronic libretto is of the 1727 production and it is clear that there were changes made to the text as well as the music for subsequent productions. For instance, the aria added at the end of this recording does not appear in the original libretto.

This creates a significant practical auditory problem. Without knowing who is singing what, save the arias, and not being able actually to distinguish what it is they are saying/singing about beyond the first line, one can only remark on the quality of the singing in general. From this point of view, the Farnace of Mary-Ellen Nesi is a pleasure to hear, as is the Gilade of Roberta Maneli. Almost as good is the Tamiri of Sonia Prina, and the Selinda of Loriana Castellana is also appropriately ingratiating. The Berenice of Delphine Galou, however, sounds as if it is hard work, and the same is true of the Aquilo of Magnus Staveland, for whom this does not sound like his home territory. I am afraid, however, the Pompeo of Emanuele D’Aguanno is not always easy to listen to. Though there is but one person, Dario Shikhmiri, listed as the Chorus, I assume the full sound we hear is made by all the cast.

Scadelli does his best to make modern instruments, and their players, aware that there are some interesting things that can, indeed, must happen in the pit. Alas, it’s a hopeless job: The orchestra gives not the slightest evidence it understands what it is playing and, frankly, sounds awful. Despite good intentions, this production just never gets off the ground.

Because I much appreciate Dynamic’s clear commitment to pursuing non-standard operatic fare, I wish the production values associated with this CD had been better and that I could give this recording a recommendation.



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