Vivaldi: Orlando Furioso, Rv 728 / Sardelli, Delser, Kennedy, Dordolo, Modo Antiquo

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There already exists a first-rate, award-winning recording of Orlando Furioso (Opus111/Naïve OP30393 – see review); not surprisingly, since this is such a fine work, packed with fine music, but it means that CPO’s new recording is up against very strong competition – and online dealers seem to be offering the Opus111 more cheaply than this new CPO version. I, for one, am not complaining if we have multiple versions of music which has taken a long time to find suitable advocates. Naxos, too, have added opera to their already wide coverage of Vivaldi, though I was less impressed with their version of Griselda than some other reviewers.

Federico Sardelli and Modo Antiquo have themselves participated in that Opus111 series; their recent version of Atenaïde (OP30438) was praised by my colleague MS.

MS thought the conducting on Atenaïde brisk yet sensitive. I was bowled over by the performance of the Overture at the beginning of the new set – it’s actually the Overture to Farnace, RV711, for reasons which are unexplained in the booklet. Presumably the original has been lost but, as these Overtures (effectively Sinfonias) bear little relation to the opera and are often performed separately, this is no great loss. The stylish and sprightly playing, with Sardelli subtly ‘leaning’ on the phrasing in a most enjoyable manner, sets the tone for the opera as a whole.

My introduction to this opera came very recently, from Jean-Christophe Spinosi’s performance at the Edinburgh Festival, 2007, broadcast later on BBC Radio 3 – a very decent performance with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Chorus and more than adequate soloists, to which I have listened with pleasure several times, but outshone by this ‘new’ version (actually dating from five years earlier).

That 2007 performance was fairly heavily cut in places; this CPO version is more complete, but it is significantly shorter than the Opus111 to a degree which cannot be explained solely by differences of tempo. The Opus111 recording attempts to restore everything that was performed in 1727. Presumably, the text offered here is that which was performed at the Opera Barga Festival in 2002. The recording was made in conjunction with the Istituto Italiano Antonio Vivaldi and the German radio station WDR3.

There are no let-downs among the soloists. Marina de Liso is an authoritative-sounding Alcina, though she is soon, rightly, outshone in this respect by Anne Desler as Orlando. De Liso makes a good impression from her first aria, Alza in quegl’occhi and an even better one as she brings the house down at the end of Act 1 with her rendition of Amorose a’rai del sole to round off the first CD.

Neither the Alcina nor the Orlando exhibits any of the plumminess which sometimes afflicts mezzos. Lucia Sciannimanico (Bradamante) is perhaps the least impressive of these, showing a slight trace of plumminess at times, as in her first aria Asconderò il mio sdegno, but this is never a major problem.

Desler makes a convincing mad Orlando – never easy to bring off in opera – especially in Act 3, when the music appropriately echoes la Folia. Vivaldi, like many of his contemporaries, seems to have been fascinated by this popular work, sometimes known as les Folies d’Espagne: there is an excellent version of his Trio Sonata, RV63, a set of variations on this tune, on bargain-price Hyperion Helios (CDH55231) and Harmonia Mundi have just reissued their equally fine Ensemble 415 version on mid-price HM Gold HMG50 1366.

Nicki Kennedy is a pure- and light-toned Angelina, but there is plenty of power in her voice when needed. Her first aria, Un raggio di speme, begins a little hesitantly – she has what is always the dubious honour of the first aria – but she soons get into gear and she handles the florid passages excellently, as well as bringing out the contrast between hope and fear.

As the ‘honest friend’ Astolfo, Martin Kronthaler has just the right voice for the part, a lightish bass-baritone which I particularly appreciate, as someone who found myself in bygone times, when my voice was in better shape, filling in for tenor or bass, whichever was most needed. He gets his first aria, Costanza m’insegni, just before Orlando and he is not out-sung by the latter.

Thierry Gregoire (Ruggiero) has to cope with the problem of all modern counter-tenors, who don’t have the sheer vocal power that castrati would have possessed, but Vivaldi is less unkind than Handel, who often pits his counter-tenors against an orchestral accompaniment with which even the likes of Andreas Scholl sometimes find it hard to cope. In Sol per te mio dolce amore, where Ruggiero is accompanied very lightly, Gregoire proves himself fully the equal of the other soloists.

Luca Dordolo (Medoro) has a distinctive tenor voice. My domestic second opinion, alias my wife, walked in as I was playing the third CD and commented on the strong impression made by his forthright rendition of Vorrebe amando il cor. I can only concur.

The Coro de Camera offer excellent support and Modo Antiquo’s orchestral playing is as good throughout as I have indicated that it is in the Overture.

The recording balance is about ideal, though some may think the orchestra a trifle too forward in relation to the voices. The resonant ambiance of the venue is well captured, but never allowed to become a problem.

The booklet reminds us that CPO have also recorded Vivaldi’s Arsilda and Tito Manlio with Modo Antiquo and Sardelli. All three come with illustrations of Venetian Carnival masks on the cover – very striking, but not quite as striking as the Opus111 covers. As with all Ariosto-based operas, the plot is hugely complicated – if you want to know what complicated means, try reading the original epic, in Harington’s Elizabethan translation if you cannot manage the original: both are available online. The synopses in the booklet help, though that is all that Francophones receive: English and German translations of the whole text are provided.

A production of any Ariosto-based opera involves a good deal of stage spectacle – stormy seas in the background, characters flying in on hippogryphs – which, I think wisely, CPO have not attempted to represent aurally. I would, however, very much like to see some enterprising company offer us a version of this opera to match the quality of this or the Opus 111 version – and versions of Handel’s Alcina and Orlando to match the Christie CD versions, too, while they are about it. And how about a version on DVD of Vivaldi’s other Ariosto-based opera, Orlando Finto Pazzo – we’ve already had a fine CD version, from Opus111 again (OP30392)?

The Arthaus DVD of Orlando Furioso, with Marilyn Horne et al, directed by Randall Behr in San Francisco (100210) is getting rather long in the tooth (it’s in 4:3 format, dating from 1980) and is unlikely to satisfy authenticists. If you particularly want to hear Marilyn Horne, however, her Erato recording is still available complete (2292451472) or in highlight form on a bargain-price Apex CD (2564615122).

I thoroughly enjoyed this CPO recording, far more than the Naxos Griselda. I cannot recommend it against the Naïve/Opus111, when so much praise has been heaped on the latter; I cannot think, however, that anyone would be seriously displeased with their purchase of this new CPO set. I’m absolutely sure you won’t feel let down by the music – if you like The Four Seasons and the more famous of Vivaldi’s settings of the Gloria, which you may have seen and heard recently on BBC4, you’re bound to like this. Perhaps the ideal would be to buy the CPO and add the highlights disc from the other set. Several of the Naïve Vivaldi recordings are available from as mp3 downloads but I really don’t recommend downloading opera recordings.

-- Brian Wilson, MusicWeb International

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: 777095-2

  • UPC: 761203709526

  • Label: CPO

  • Composer: Antonio Vivaldi

  • Conductor: Federico Maria Sardelli

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Coro da Camera Italiano, Modo Antiquo Ensemble

  • Performer: Anne Desler, Luca Dordolo, Lucia Sciannimanico, Martin Kronthaler, Nicki Kennedy, Thierry Gregoire