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L'Incoronazione di Dario
Mingardo, Galou, Mameli, Cirillo, Soloviy, Bridelli; Dahlin, Novaro; Accademia Bizantina, Dantone. Text and translation. Naïve OP 30553 (3)
The period-instrument orchestra Accademia Bizantina, under the direction of Ottavio Dantone, presents L'Incoronazione di Dario as the latest offering in Naïve's Vivaldi Edition. The 1717 opera reuses an unfashionably old Venetian libretto, perhaps, according to Frédéric Dalaméa's excellent liner notes, for budget reasons. In fifty separate scenes featuring eight live characters along with two supernatural appearances, recitatives are lengthy, and the atmosphere hovers between comic and serious in unexpected ways. In place of gender disguises and last-minute revelations of noble birth, characters feign dimwittedness or act at cross-purposes, and the villains reveal their true natures only late in the game.
Upon the death of Cyrus, three competing noblemen are vying for the throne of Persia, which comes with the hand of Cyrus's eldest daughter. A jealous younger sister and a conniving old philosopher make separate power-grabs, while one of the heroes is confronted by a spurned ex-lover, and a lady-in-waiting changes sides frequently. The libretto elicited imaginative and richly detailed writing from Vivaldi; rather than a string of da capo arias, he brought mini-arias into recitative scenes and experimented with ensembles, using asides and inserted comments in clever ways.
Dantone's stylistically astute forces respond with boldness and expressive nuance, but the recording could have benefited from a staged run. While the continuo forces are deployed well, often the timing of recitatives and arias seems careless. We wait too long for Argene's climactic and explosive "Ferri, ceppi, sangue, morte," for example. Comic moments are underplayed or missed entirely: when the villain narrowly escapes impalement on a tree, he lingers nonsensically over his exit line, "Quick, let me get out before she changes her mind."
Heading the cast with consistent artistry and dramatic credibility is Sara Mingardo as the marriage prize, Statira. She revels in the juicy harmonies of "In petto ho un certo affanno" and brings quiet joy along with a light, easy vocal production to the delicately textured "Sentirò fra ramo e ramo." Best of all is the inventive scene in which Statira comes upon the tutor Nicenus playing the cello. She joins her voice to his melody and then is persuaded to sing a love cantata he's just composed, which Mingardo caps with full-voiced low D.
Authoritative singing also characterizes Lucia Cirillo's Oronte, and she portrays the thoughtless soldier with a dark, pointed voice and plenty of dramatic temperament. As Oronte's wronged lover Alinda, Roberta Mameli brings bold, incisive singing to recitatives and fine expression to the lamenting "A me ceppi?" Soprano Sofia Soloviy sounds heroic as the soldier Arpago and brings a nice buoyancy to the Act III aria "V'ubbidisco amate stelle," but in the role of the confidante Flora, Giuseppina Bridelli sounds immature.
Anders Dahlin's serviceable tenor does little to illuminate the title role, but he handles his conventional rage aria, "Col furor ch'in petto io serbo," with style. Riccardo Novaro plays Niceno with growing menace and shows flexibility and rich tone in "Non lusinghi il core amante," a wonderful aria with bassoon and violin solos adding to the somber color.
Although her virtuoso arias are well managed, Delphine Galou sings the role of the scheming sister Argene with a hooty vocal production that makes her sound like a countertenor. With a virile delivery more appropriate to a trouser role, she has the petulant phrasing of some male altos, so the listener, even with libretto in hand, is confused by this casting error.
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