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GRAMOPHONE (10 /2013)
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Reviewer: David Vickers

Ciccolini revives Vivaldi’s 1737 opera with reconstructed Act 1

Metastasio’s libretto Catone in Utica, based loosely on Plutarch’s account of the republican senator Cato’s defiance of Julius Caesar’s dictatorship, was first set to music by Vinci (Rome, 1728). By the time Vivaldi turned his attention to it just nine years later, it had already been set by another five composers. Most of these respected the tragedy of Cato’s suicide but Vivaldi instead presented an implausibly cheerful reconciliation between Cato and Caesar at the end of his version, which was performed in May 1737 at the Teatro dell’Academica Filarmonica in Verona.


The music for Act 1 is lost, so it has been skilfully constructed by Alessandro Ciccolini, whose meticulous essay suggests why his work is more persuasive than a previous valiant effort by Jean-Claude Malgoire. As Ciccolini demonstrated before with his masterly completion of Motezuma (also recorded by Alan


Curtis – Archiv, 4/06), he has a finely attuned sense of the Red Priest’s style; on this occasion he has composed five of the Act 1 arias using thematic material derived from Vivaldi’s instrumental works and explains that he prefers this flexible solution to simply modifying arias borrowed from other operas.


The introductory Sinfonia (lifted from L’olimpiade) is played with effervescent dynamism by Il Complesso Barocco and Curtis directs with astute dramatic pacing. The entire cast performs superbly: Topi Lehtipuu demonstrates authoritative potency and rhetorical intelligence befitting of Cato, and produces an explosive performance of ‘Dovea svenarti allora’ (a bitter tirade upon discovering that his daughter loves his enemy); Roberta Mameli (Cesare) sings with sparkling technique, characterful conviction and sentimental versatility in music ranging from the gorgeously murmured love aria ‘Se mai senti spirarti sul volto’ to the furious trumpet aria ‘Se in campo armato’; Ann Hallenberg (the vengeful widow of Pompey), Sonia Prina (Catone’s daughter) and Romina Basso (a legate of the Roman senate) are probably the finest three mezzo-sopranos in the current Baroque opera business; the beleaguered Arbace is sung passionately by Emo˝ke Baráth. Ciccolini and Curtis deserve enormous credit for transforming an incomplete obscurity into a coherent and compelling opera – although Vivaldi’s own final scenes are a perfunctory anti-climax.

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