Wednesday 21 May 2014

Vivaldi - L'Incoronazione di Dario

Vivaldi - L'Incoronazione di Dario - naive OP 30553
Vivaldi - L'incoronazione di Dario: Anders Dahlin, Sara Mingardo, Delphine Dalou, Accademia Bizantina, Ottavio Dantone: naive
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on May 13 2014
Star rating: 3.5

Sparkling performance of Vivaldi's semi-comic opera

Volume 58 of naive's Vivaldi Edition (volume 18 of the composer's theatrical works) is devoted to Vivaldi's 1717 opera L'incoronazione di Dario. Anders Dahlin sings the title role, with Sara Mingardo as Statira, Delphine Galou as Argene, Riccardo Novaro as Niceno, Roberta Mameli as Alinda, Lucia Cirillo as Oronte, Sofia Soloviy as Arpago and Giuseppina Bridelli as Flora. Ottavio Dantone conducts Accademia Bizantina.

In 1717 Vivaldi had to come up with an opera quickly, to replace one by Fortunato Chelleri which played for only two nights at the S. Angelo Theatre in Venice; a theatre which Vivaldi probably had a handing running, albeit in the background. He chose a pre-existing libretto, but not a recent one. Instead he went for one by Ariano Morselli written 30 years earlier (set by Domenico Freschi in 1686, and subsequently by Giacomo Perti and by Giuseppe Aldrovandini) Eschewing the then current vogue for arcadian subjects, Vivaldi chose what the CD booklet describes as a tragi-comedy. Vivaldi's L'incoronazione di Dario is not unlike Handel's Serse, fast-moving, short arias and a not-quite comic satirical feel. The plot has a group of aristocrats behaving so badly even by opera seria standards that it is clear the genre is being sent up.

The plot is relatively straightforward . The Persian emperor has died leaving two daughters, Statira and Argene. Whomsoever Statira, the elder daughter, marries will be emperor. Dario, Oronte and Arpage jostle for position but Statira loves Dario so things seem all set. The comedy comes from two areas. Statira is so naive and trusting as so seem simple minded which allows her sister Argene to run rings round her and Dario. Argene loves Dario and wants him for himself. But Dario has a doggedness about his devotion to Statira which wins out in the end. Oronte and Arpage spend the evening jostling for Statira's hand with predictable results. Statira and Argene's tutor Niceno is a rather creepy character who wants Statira for himself. Oronte already has a beloved, Alinda, who spends the evening alternately railing at him and bewailing the fact that she still loves him. There is also a devoted female servant, Flora.

The tone of the opera is light in the sense that the plot is fast paced, with the libretto keeping moving, and the arias are all frequent and short (with quite a few ariosos as well). As with many of Vivaldi's other operas, you never quite feel that the composer gets under the skin of his characters; the music is functionally efficient rather than brilliantly dramatic. And by keeping the arias short, everything speeds by and nothing really has time to tell. That said, there are many felicities along the way. Vivaldi enlivens the arias with a sequence of solo instruments which have the effect of creating some delightfully toe-tapping numbers. This is music written to delight and you sense the composer wants us to sit back and let ourselves go, and enjoy the fun.

One function of the writing is rather curious, and not explained in the CD booklet. Both the leading female roles (Statira and Argene) are played by contraltos, add to this that Flora is also a contralto, with Oronte as a mezzo-soprano and you have a cast very weighted towards low voices. There are only two sopranos in the cast, in the smaller roles of Alinda (a female character) and Arpago (a male character). This gives the opera a particular tinto which probably came from necessity, the cast which was available to Vivaldi.

On disc it gives us another problem, a plethora of rather too similar sounding voices. There are times when you have to work hard to decide who is singing. Sara Mingardo is strong in the role of Statira, perhaps a little too strong as you feel that Mingardo invests Statira with a strength of character which goes against the plot. Statira does get a big aria moment, though in fact in the plot this is Statira herself singing a cantata; no matter, Mingardo is profoundly moving here. Delphine Galou is a delight as Argene, constantly scheming and quite willing to dispose of her sister and hood-wink her sister's lover to have him for herself. Anders Dahlin is excellent as Dario, and as he is the hero he has some showy coloratura moments in which Dahlin is excellent.

You wish that the plot gave Roberta Mameli as little more to do as Alinda, as she certainly impresses. Giuseppina Bridelli is similarly apposite as the ever faithful and very useful servant Flora. Lucia Cirillo and Sofia Soloviy are the comic pair, Oronte and Arpago, clearly taking themselves very seriously and all the funnier for it. Finally Riccardo Novaro is a fine Niceno, making his creepiness something of a surprise.

Ottavio Dantone keeps things moving, without making it seem rushed. The plot cracks along at the sort of pace needed for such a crazy piece of drama, but he and Accademia Bizantina ensure that there is sufficient time to enjoy the instrumental felicities in the arias.

Naive's rather impressive packaging, includes a complete libretto (in Italian, French, English as well as Vivaldi's argument summarising the plot. But whoever edited the CD booklet, did not think things through and it omits some of the details necessary to help us enjoy an unfamiliar opera. The list of characters includes names only, without saying who they are (always an essential point in baroque opera). And Vivaldi's argument is the only plot synopsis, if you want to find out what is going on you have to wade through the libretto. This is short-sighted and you feel the set would have been far stronger for a bit more of a plot summary.
The opera one of Vivaldi's to come into greater prominence. This is not the opera's first recording, it was issued on disc by Harmonia Mundi in 1986 with John Elwes in the title role and with counter-tenors singing the female contralto roles! And in 2008, it was given its UK premiere by Garsington Opera in a production by David Freeman.

The performance was recorded live though there are no obvious signs of this beyond the fact that the performance fairly crackles and sparkles with energy. Dantone is on peak form as he and his cast ensure that there is much to enjoy. This set would be a good place to start exploring Vivaldi's operas; its comic premise meaning that the composer's lack of dramatic depth hardly matters. And there is a fine sequence of toe-tapping arias to enjoy in stunning performances.

Antonio Vivaldi (1678 - 1741) - L'incoronazione di Dario (1717) [177.23]
Dario - Anders Dahlin (tenor)
Statira - Sara Mingardo (alto)
Argene - Delphine Galou (alto)
Niceno - Riccardo Novaro (baritone)
Alinda - Roberta Mameli (soprano)
Oronte - Lucia Cirillo (mezzo-soprano)
Arpago - Sofia Soloviy (soprano)
Flora - Siuseppina Bridelli (alto)
Accademia Bizantina
Ottavio Dantone (conductor)
Recorded live September 2013, Die Glocke, Bremen, Germany
Naive OP30553 3CD's [64.34, 68.57, 43.52]

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