> Opera and Oratorio
T. Gheorghiu, Basso, Arquez, Galou; Novarro; Modo Antiquo, Sardelli. Text and translation. Naïve OP 30540 (2)
The enormous Vivaldi project on the Naïve label now includes seventeen of the theatrical works. Orlando Finto Pazzo and Orlando Furioso have already appeared. This Orlando is billed as the 1714 version. It is, in brief, a substantial reworking of another Orlando opera first performed in 1713 at the same Venetian theater where the present opera was first played. Although the music of the 1713 opera was credited to Giovanni Alberto Ristori, scholarly consensus is that Vivaldi wrote the earlier opera as well but wanted to see how his music would be received before he ventured a Venetian opera under his own name. At any rate, it is enjoyable to compare a set of operas with the same cast list, and this one has several rewarding arias. One is a simile aria for Bradamante, mercifully not about a bird but about a river. Angelica gets an aria in which she must placate both her secret lover and a would-be lover; she sings to each in a different meter signature. Alcina has an aria in which the vocal line is mostly accompanied by nothing more than single notes on the violin. The end of the opera is interesting for the dramaturgy of Grazio Braccioli's libretto. There is a "happy ending" with the "right" pair of lovers united at last amid choral acclamation. But the opera then ends with Orlando's mad scene, and he is left without his sanity restored, unlike the Vivaldi–Braccioli version of 1727 or the Handel–Capece version of 1733.
The protagonist here is a baritone. Riccardo Novaro's voice is especially warm on high E and F, just where so many baritones have registral difficulty. He shines in a long scene of recitative when Orlando is trapped in a cavern. The Alcina and the Ruggiero, Romina Basso and David DQ Lee, both have a hooded quality to their voices, which is interesting when they are paired off for a while. Both are fleet in passages of runs, and Lee tries out some catchy if stylistically questionable syncopation in the ornamentation of one aria. As Bradamante, Gäelle Arquez, displays a firm, bright voice, sometimes reminiscent of Susan Graham's arrival on the scene in the 1990s, and a fine rhythmic sense. Teodora Gheorghiu, as Angelica, is a heroine with real strength who nicely delineates the inner and outer lives of the character in purely vocal terms.
The work itself is not exactly a masterpiece, but it is quite appealing on its own terms. It is more representative of opera in its era than Handel's Orlando, in the same way that Il Matrimonio Secreto is more representative of its era than Le Nozze di Figaro. Nearly all the arias are brisk ones (even the last aria of Act I, in what composers would soon come to consider a dramatic miscalculation), but when a meditative one finally arrives in the middle of Act II, the effect is greater than it would otherwise have been. The orchestra of thirteen string players plus pairs of oboes and horns is fully in the spirit of the enterprise, and the continuo players are dramatically attuned without being showy, even in a death scene that arrives surprisingly early in the story. Conductor Federico Maria Sardelli does a beautiful job, making it appear that the characters are running the show.
WILLIAM R. BRAUN
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