Thursday 7 May 2020

Veni, Vidi, Vinci: Franco Fagioli brings bravura brilliance and distinctive style to arias by the early 18th century Neopolitan composer

Franco Fagioli - Leonardo Vinci - Deutsche Grammophon
Arias by Leonardo Vinci; Franco Fagioli, Il pomo d'oro; Deutsch Grammophon

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 6 May 2020 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Franco Fagioli brings his distinctive style to a disc of arias by the early 18th century composer whose material was an important precursor of the galant style

Leonardo Vinci belonged to the generation of Italian composers younger than Handel, and Vinci played an important role in the development of Italian opera in the 1720s, creating a style which focused on the elaboration of the vocal line, and his work would play an important role in the development of the galant style. His early death paved the way for Johann Adolph Hasse's European-wide success. Vinci's operas have been slowly emerging into the lime-light, counter-tenor Filippo Mineccia issued a disc of arias back in 2014 [see my review], whilst Vinci's 1726 opera Siroe received its premiere recording in 2019 with Antonio Fori conducting forces from the Teatro San Carlo in Naples [see my review].

On this new disc with the delightfully punning title of Veni, Vidi, Vinci from Deutsche Grammophon, counter-tenor Franco Fagioli performs a selection of opera arias by Leonardo Vinci with Il pomo d'oro directed by Zefira Valova, and we hear music from Il trionfo di Camilla (1725), L'Ernelinda (1726), Siroe (1726), La Rosmira fedele (Partenope) (1725), Gismondo Re di Polonia (1727), Alessandro nell'Indie (1729), and Medeo (1728), with Fagioli singing arias originally written for both castratos and star sopranos.

The operas span quite a narrow time-range, as Vinci initially worked in comic opera, only moving to opera seria in 1724, and he died in 1730. He was Neapolitan trained, and one of a group of Italian composers of the period with strong links to the major castrati, many of whom had similar Neapolitan training. These are arias sung the by major singers of the day, and those on the disc include material sung by Faustina Bordoni, Francesca Cuzzoni, Carlo Scalzi and Farinelli amongst others.
Il trionfo di Camilla was staged in Parma in 1725, with a cast which had previously premiered Vinci's La Rosmira fedele (see below). Notable amongst the singers was Faustina Bordoni, one of Handel's 'Rival Queens' and future wife of Johan Hasse. We hear two arias, both sung by Camilla, 'Sembro quell’usignolo' and 'Più non so finger sdegni', which was re-used by Handel in his 1725 pasticcio Elpidia, sung by Bordoni's 'rival' Francesca Cuzzoni. 'Sembro quell’usignolo' is a fine introduction to the Vinci style, clear, direct accompaniments, with a lively sense yet nothing too complicated to distract from the strikingly elaborate vocal line. This was music you could tap your toes to, and enjoy the vocal fireworks. Franco Fagioli clearly revels in the challenges and is well able to get his voice round the elaborate passage-work and with an enviable ease in the very high passages. However, his voice can be something of an acquired taste, with his distinctive and very pronounced vibrato, not so much used as ornament but as a permanent feature of his vocal production. By contrast, 'Più non so finger sdegni' is graceful and redolent of the later galant style,

L'Ernelinda  was staged in Naples in 1726. The aria 'Sorge talora fosca l’aurora' was in fact adapted from Il trionfo di Camilla (where it was sung by Faustina Bordoni), and we hear it preceded by its rather striking accompanied recitative. The aria itself, is gently attractive with a galant, lyrical cast.

Siroe, Re di Persia was staged in  Venice in 1726, and here we hear an aria originally written for tenor but which appears in soprano clef, suggesting its re-use by a castrato, 'Gelido in ogni vena'. This is a big piece, over nine minutes long, and such a fine show-piece for a major singer. Again it features a galant syle long-breathed melody over a gently throbbing accompaniment, which Vinci then uses to provide support for the elaborations in the vocal line.

Gismondo Re di Polonia was written for Rome in 1727, re-using six arias from L'Ernelinda. 'Quell’usignolo' was newly composed for the opera, another aria which was conceived for a tenor but re-used (in a later pasticcio) for a soprano. It is a charmingly toe-tapping piece, with two high recorders added for some striking colour, which of course means that at one point the voice forms a trio with the two recorders, each trying to out-trill the other.

La Rosmira fedele (Partenope) was written for the Venice carnival in 1725, and uses a libretto which Handel used as the basis for his 1730 opera Partenope. Here we hear one of Arsace's arias, 'Barbara mi schernisci' which was written for the castrato Carlo Scalzi who worked with Vinci many times. It manages to make the rather galant style into something rather dramatic, with the throbbing accompaniment becoming something more menacing. This is perhaps one of the most striking arias on the disc, and you can understand why Handel would himself use the aria in Elpidia

Next another aria from Gismondo Re di Polonia, newly composed for the opera, 'Nave altera' is brisk, busy and not a little toe-tapping with some impressive passage-work. 'Nube di denso orrore', which was newly written for L'Ernelinda, but then reappeared in Gismondo Re di Polonia, is another of those gentle arias with elaborations in the vocal line, whilst 'Sull'ali deli suo amor' from the opera is a brisky show piece

Alessandro nell'Indie was premiered in Rome during the 1729/30 season, and we hear the aria 'Vil trofeo' which includes trumpets to impressive effect, creating a fabulous showy aria. From Medeo, which premiered in Parma in 1728, we hear two arias later performed in pasticcios by the great castrato Farinelli, 'Scherzo dell’onda instabile' and 'Sento due fiamme in petto', the latter preceded by its recitative. 'Scherzo dell’onda instabile' is another display piece, but one which Vinci makes highly characterful, whilst 'Sento due fiamme in petto' is another large-scale piece lasting nearly 10 minutes. 

Fagioli is well-supported by Il pomo d'oro, whose members get plenty of chances for solo display as the arias feature plenty of obbligato instrumental lines. The music never feels driven, with singer and instrumentalists combining in a supportive manner.

The CD booklet provides a valuable introduction to Vinci's operas, though the fact that it is laid out roughly historically and the arias referenced by name and not track number means that when following the disc you often have to hunt to find the background on a particular aria.

The disc provides a valuable introduction to Leonardo Vinci's art (seven of the arias are world premieres), performed by an artist who is fully at home in the elaborate vocal style of Vinci's arias. Perhaps Fagioli's high, vibrato-laden counter-tenor will not be to everyone's taste, but there is no doubting his skill and artistry in this music as he makes all the elaborate busyness form part of the character of the pieces. As with other aria selections from this period, when listening to the whole disc I did occasionally long for something simpler and could understand why Handel would introduced plainer more simply plangent piece amongst the busyness.

Leonardo Vinci (1690-1730) - arias from Il trionfo di Camilla (1725), L'Ernelinda (1726), Siroe (1726), La Rosmira fedele (Partenope) (1725), Gismondo Re di Polonia (1727), Alessandro nell'Indie (1729), Medeo (1728)
Franco Fagioli (counter-tenor)
Il pomo d'oro, director Zefira Valova
Recorded at the Villa San Fermo, Lonigo, Italy, March 2019

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