Friday 19 July 2019

Leonardo Vinci's 1726 opera Siroe in its world premiere recording from the Teatro San Carlo, Naples

Vinci: Siroe, Re di Persia - Dynamic
Leonardo Vinci Siroe, Re di Persia; Carlo Alemano, Leslie Visco, Roberta invernizzi, Cristina Alunno, Daniela Salvo, orchestra of the Teatro San Carlo, Antonio Florio; DYNAMIC Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 16 July 2019 Star rating: 3.0 (★★★)
A milestone, the first recording of the first setting of Metastasio's important second opera libretto, in a creditable performance which may not engage the casual listener

Leonardo Vinci is one of the Italian composers from the generation younger than Handel who continued the art of Italian opera in Italy. It is only relatively recently that Vinci's operas have started to appear on disc, and for performers to get to grips with them.

This new set from Dynamic is the first recording of Leonardo Vinci's Siroe setting a libretto by Metastasio. It is very much a collaboration between period and modern performance, it is presented by the Teatro San Carlo in Naples with the orchestra of the theatre conducted by Antonio Florio (who created the edition of Siroe that is used) and the continuo provided by members of Florio's  Cappella Neapolitana ensemble. The cast features Carlo Alemanno as Cosroe, Leslie Visco as Medarse, Roberta Invernizzi as Elmira, Cristina Alunno as Siroe, Daniela Salvo as Laodice and Luca Cervoni as Arasse.

Vinci's Siroe was premiered in 1726 in Venice, an extra at the end of the season as a result of the popularity of Vinci's previous opera. Siroe was Metastasio's second opera seria, and Metastasio thought enough of it to revise it more than once and to include one of the revised versions in his collected works. Vinci's was the first setting, with Giovanni Porta, Porpora, Sarra, Vivaldi and Handel following. It was Handel's first setting of Metastasio, and it is through this filter that we tend to view Metastasio. The encounters between Handel and Metastasio do not rank amongst the greatest of Handel's operas, and the sheer length of Metastasian libretti can be understood when you learn that for Handel's setting the 1284 lines of Metstasio's libretto were reduced to half and still left an opera long by Handelian standards.

The plot involves the complex dynastic and family dynamics of King Cosroe who has two sons, the noble (and impossibly moral) Siroe and the less admirable Medarse. Things are complicated by love triangles. Emira the daughter of one of Siroe's enemies is at court disguised as a man, Idaspe, plotting revenge on Cosroe but whom Siroe loves and whose identity he does not reveal. Laodice is loved by the King but she loves Siroe. The trick is to persuade us that these rather self-regarding people actually matter.

I don't feel that the cast quite succeeds in this, though the singing is entirely creditable, and not all the arias rise up and capture the attention. Listening to this set, you are aware of quite how much recitative there is; Winton Dean describes a Metstasian libretto like reading a novel. Having a group of Italian speaking singers on this recording is a great advantage and the recitative certainly rattles along. The problem is that it does not quite have the vividness of the Handel opera performances based on a run of stage performances such as those from the Gottingen Handel Festival (Handel's Siroe is available in a 2014 recording from the festival). The drama here never seems to quite grip, and given the complexity and rarified nature of Metastasio's plot there are a few moments when you think, why are we bothering with these people?

Tenor Carlo Alemanno sings music from Monteverdi to Verdi and his voice sounds admirably non-specialist. He has some fine moments as Cosroe notably his Act 3 aria when he regrets having Siroe put to death (luckily the order was not carried out). The treacherous Medarse, played by soprano Leslie Visco, gets the terrific aria which closes Act One. Simply a simile aria about rays of good fortune in a storm, it does not say much about character or plot but Visco brings it over well. Roberta Invernizzi plays Elmira who is disguised as Idaspe and bent on revenge on Cosroe. Her fine aria at the end of Act Two articulates her dilemma between hating Cosroe and loving his son. Siroe is impossibly noble, and difficult to bring of but Cristina Alunno does her best. Daniela Salvo is poor Laodice who si torn between Cosroe and Siroe. Her powerful Act 3 aria arises when Cosroe refuses to let her plead for Siroe's life. Luca Cervoni is the general Arasse whose refusal of Cosroe's order to kill Siroe makes you think that he may be the only rational person on the disc.

To get this important opera on disc is a notable milestone, and that it is a collaboration with a regular Italian opera house rather than from a specialist group is entirely admirable. This will be of great interest to those keen on Italian opera from the Baroque, and a milestone in the exploration of settings of Metastasio's librettos. But I am not sure that the performance will seduce or engage the casual listener, nor explain the opera's original success.

Leonardo Vinci (1690-1737) - Siroe, Re di Persia
Cosroe - Carlo Alemanno
Medarse - Leslie Visco
Elmira - Roberta Invernizzi
Siroe - Cristina Alunno
Laodice - Daniela Salvo
Arasse - Luca Cervoni
Orchestra of the Teatro San Carlo, Naples
Antonio Florio (conductor)
Recorded Live in 2018
DYNAMIC CDS7838.03 3CDs [63.32, 55.51, 39.19]

Available from Amazon.

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