> Opera and Oratorio
Milanesi, Galou, Mameli; Lopez, Zanasi, Giovannini, Sakurada; Le Concert des Nations, Savall. Text and translations. Naïve OP 30513
Though often considered an instrumental composer today, Vivaldi wrote dozens of operas during his lifetime. Fifteen of these are preserved in Turin's Biblioteca Nazionale Universitaria, and record label Naïve has joined forces with the Istituto per i Beni Musicali in Piemonte to record all of the works (opera and otherwise) contained in the collection. This latest issue, a performance of Vivaldi's twelfth opera, Teuzzone (1718), features all the benefits that modern scholarship and recording technology can offer, though its success is hindered somewhat by an uneven cast and a lack of dramatic intensity.
Male sopranist Paolo Lopez portrays the would-be king, Teuzzone — a strange casting choice, given that the opera's original production featured a female soprano in this role. While Lopez possesses a voice of fundamentally good quality, his tone is frequently strident, pinched and unrefined. He is stylistically offensive in the way that he slides into pitches as if crooning a modern-day pop song (his duet with Delphine Galou, "Che amaro tormento," is perhaps the most egregious example of this), and his habit of excessively swelling individual notes to the detriment of the greater vocal line ventures far outside the realm of good taste. As the usurping empress Zidiana, mezzo-soprano Raffaella Milanesi seems to struggle a bit with the role's low tessitura; indeed, the awkwardness of the range may account for the lack of energy and projection in her characterization. Contralto Delphine Galou is consistently engaging as Teuzzone's love interest, Zelinda, her elegant phrasing and attention to text further enhancing her easily produced, mellow tone. In the smaller role of Egaro, countertenor Antonio Giovannini is impressively agile and ornaments well, yet he makes little effort to enunciate the text. Breaking up this alto-range aria-fest is baritone Furio Zanasi as Sivenio, the most evil of the three traitors, who is also accomplished in coloratura passagework. The lesser traitor, governor Cino (originally a castrato role), is sung by Roberta Mameli, the lone female soprano in the cast. She is particularly lovely in the lilting aria "Quanto costi," thrilling in her heroic execution of the whirlwind coloratura of "Son fra scogli e fra procelle" and — unlike several of her fellow cast members — dramatically engaged throughout the opera.
Perhaps the greatest asset of this recording, however, is the accomplished playing of Le Concert des Nations, a first-rate period ensemble founded in 1989 and directed by this recording's conductor, Jordi Savall. The group does full justice to Vivaldi's colorful orchestrations, with pitch-perfect tuning and consistently tight ensemble throughout the opera. Naïve's sound is beautifully clear and transparent, but the booklet — containing the original Italian text and translations in English and French — sports a number of layout errors. Though imperfect, this recording of Teuzzone is likely the best that the work will receive for the foreseeable future.