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GRAMOPHONE (05/2023)
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Reviewer :
 Richard Lawrence

The Teatro Sant’Angelo was the principal theatre in Venice with which Vivaldi was associated, as both composer and manager. It saw the premieres of some 20 of his operas and pasticcios, from Orlando finto pazzo (1713) to Feraspe (1739). Overlooking the Grand Canal, the theatre opened in 1677. It closed in 1804 and was eventually demolished. The Palazzo Barocci, now a hotel, stands on the site.

All the true operas by Vivaldi featured here – Andromeda liberata is a serenata – were first staged at the Sant’Angelo, as were those by Gasparini and Chelleri. It is typical of the inadequacies of the booklet that no information is given on the operas by Ristori – Temistocle was staged in Naples, the other three in or near Dresden – nor indeed on Michelangelo Gasparini, who was possibly the brother of the better known Francesco. Giovanni Alberto Ristori (1692-1753) is a real find.

‘Con favella de’ pianti’, the first excerpt from Cleonice, starts with soft, slow repeated chords in the strings, as though the composer had been listening to the Cold Genius in Purcell’s King Arthur; while the remorse of ‘Aspri rimorsi’ from Temistocle is illustrated by dragging suspensions in the oboes. Fortunato Chelleri (c1690-1757), born to a German father, is worth a listen, as well; the accompaniment to ‘La navicella che scorge il lido’ illustrates the waves of the metaphor, with descending chromatics for the swallow finding the safety of her nest. As for Gasparini (c1670-c1732), ‘Il mio crudele amor’ is a gentle siciliana, the violins in thirds and sixths belying the sentiments (about a lover rather than ‘love’, surely) of the verse.

The first of the Vivaldi numbers is ‘Siam navi all’onde algenti’ – ships at sea, as so often in opera seria. Here Adèle Charvet has nothing to fear from Cecilia Bartoli on her ‘The Vivaldi Album’ (Decca, 12/99): both singers brilliant in the triplet runs, Charvet’s performance enhanced by a vivid, almost violent accompaniment. In the excerpt from Andromeda liberata she is up against the smoky-toned Max Emanuel Cencic on the complete recording (Archiv, 1/05). It’s a slow piece, with a prominent solo violin part (beautifully played): the way

Charvet intensifies her tone as she sustains a note across the bar line is admirable. Whatever the mood – vigorous, impassioned or wistful – Charvet catches it perfectly. And there’s a perfect end to the disc: a simple, strophic aria by Giovanni Porta – not from an opera – accompanied only by a theorbo.

The orchestra under Théotime Langlois de Swarte is excellent. I referred above to the booklet. Not only does it fail to indicate the name of the character singing, it doesn’t even tell you his or her sex. (At least two arias were written for a castrato.) The translator, clearly working from the French rather than the original Italian, has (rather charmingly) mistaken ‘pleurs’ for ‘fleurs’, so we get ‘in the language of the flowers’ rather than ‘of tears’. Still, nobody buys a recording for its booklet. This is an enjoyable exploration of byways.


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