With Antonio Caldara’s 'Morte e sepoltura di Christo', released on Glossa just after a new album devoted to Vivaldi’s late violin concertos, Fabio Biondi returns to the Italian oratorio, another of his specialities. The Venetians Caldara and Vivaldi may have been contemporaries but their career paths led them in different directions, and Caldara was to spend much time working in Mantua and Rome before securing the position of vice-Kapellmeister for the Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI in Vienna.
Seventeenth-century Italy saw the rise to prominence of the violin and the emergence of a music literature specifically designed both to exploit and extend its characteristic to the utmost. All the composers represented here distinguished themselves for the breathtaking virtuosity, the inventiveness and sometimes also the delightful eccentricity they displayed in their strikingly original works.
Olga Tverskaya's fortepiano is a gorgeous instrument, with a rich, wooly bass, a velvety middle, and a ringing top. Fabio Biondi plays with romantic sensibility, fabulous technique, and, in the big Sonata in A major, depth and drama. This music can sound sticky sweet; here it's full of life and dynamism, with flowing lyricism that's irresistible.
There is no complete surviving score for Vivaldi's Ercole su'l Termodonte, but there is enough existing material that modern scholars have been able to reconstruct it primarily by making new settings of the lost recitatives. The first production of the opera since Vivaldi's time was at Spoleto in 2006 in a version by Alessandro Ciccolini, which was released as a DVD. Conductor Fabio Biondi made a version introduced in Venice in 2007, which is recorded on this 2010 Virgin CD. Biondi's recording has the advantage of two international superstars in the leading roles, tenor Rolando Villazón and mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, and soprano Diana Damrau is nearly in their league. Villazón's earthy voice is usually associated with 19th century and verismo Italian repertoire, but he has an acute sensitivity to Baroque vocal style, and his robust, almost baritonal tenor is entirely appropriate for a larger-than-life character like Hercules. DiDonato excels as Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, singing with her characteristic brilliance and warm humanity.
Composed for the Carnival season in Verona in 1735, Bajazet is a ‘pasticcio’ opera based on the familiar story of the eponymous Turkish sultan’s imprisonment at the hands of the Tartar tyrant Tamerlane. As such, it openly uses arias by other composers, including Hasse, Broschi and Giacomelli, as well as re-cycled pieces from Vivaldi’s own operas (L’Olimpiade, Giustino, Farnace, Semiramide and Montezuma among them). But this is no mere patchwork of recycled numbers. All the ‘borrowed’ arias are expertly placed within the dramatic fabric of the work and are held together with richly composed recitatives. What we end up with is the best of the best in terms of Neapolitan-style opera – tuneful, virtuosic and passionate. Virtually every number in this recording is a highlight. What really lifts the recording is the quality of the performances. There are no holes or flaws among the experienced cast. David Daniels makes a fine Tamerlane – slippery and cruel – while Marijana Mijanovic’s Asteria packs a powerful dramatic punch. Top marks too for Vivica Genaux in the technically demanding role of Irene. Ildebrando D’Arcangelo makes a commanding Bajazet, although his tough dignity comes at the loss of some sensitivity.
L'Oracolo in Messenia, an opera written by Vivaldi for Vienna in 1740, was reconstructed by Fabio Biondi in 2011 in a triumpan open to the famous Resonanzen festival in Vienna, appropriately enough. Originally, the opera was intended to be performed in Vienna during Carnival in 1741, but due to the death of the Austrian Emperor and ultimately, himself, his plans fell through. Vivaldi expert, Fabio Biondi, reconstructed the work using a recently discovered libretto in the Library of Congress, Viavaldi s personal scores as well as those from his contemporaries. Bajazet and Ercole sul Termodonte, two other Vivaldi operas recorded for Virgin classics, also follow the magnificent example Bondi set with L'Oracolo in Messenia. This world-premier recording of Vivaldi s last Viennese opera is led by Bondi himself on the violin and comprises a high-powered cast of soprano Julia Lezhneva; mezzo sopranos Ann Hallenberg,Vivica Genaux, Romina Basso and Franziska Gottwald; Counter tenor Xavier Sabata; and tenor Magnus Staveland. The performance was greeted with a standing ovation and it was said that The festival could not have launched its 20th anniversary in more triumphant fashion.
Francesco Maria Veracini (1690-1768) is today best known as an eccentric violin virtuoso and composer of instrumental music, but he has also successfully operated as an opera composer during his time in London. His first opera Adriano in Siria was created in 1735 for the London Opera of Nobility, the rival company to Handel's opera troupe. The company had only a few years earlier (including the soprano castrato Senesino and Francesca Cuzzoni) poached all singing stars from Handel. Even worse: since 1734, it could also score with the castrato legend Farinelli. Veracini's Adriano in Siria is, in every respect, a spectacular and fascinating opera. The recording of Fabio Biondi and an appropriate illustrious singers ensemble is based on a highly successful concert performance series of the work at the Vienna Konzerthaus in 2013, which made alive again the spectacular opera event of 1735.