Vivaldi Dorilla in Tempe
The ball of twine usually required to thread one's way through the maze of most baroque opera plots need not, fortunately, be particularly large for this curious conflation of two classical legends Apollo slaying the Python and Perseus rescuing Andromeda from the rock. Here Nomio (who is Apollo in disguise banished to earth by Zeus for killing the Cyclops) is in love with Drusilla, daughter of King Admeto, who has been constrained to offer her as sacrifice to the sea monster; Nomio slays it (which takes him all of 30 seconds) and saves her; but she is ungrateful and elopes with her lover, the shepherd Elmiro, with disastrous consequences. So far so clear: the complications set in because Elmiro is loved by the nymph Eudamia, with whom, however, another shepherd, Filindo, is enamoured.
Dorilla in Tempe (a valley in Thessaly devoted to the cult of Apollo) was the thirty-third of Vivaldi's 50 or so operas. It was written in 1726, but the form in which it has come down to us is a pasticcio of eight years later that includes arias by Hasse Giacomelli (two brilliant bravura show-pieces for Filindo) and Leo, as well as other interpolations whose origins cannot be traced. Vivaldi, however, stakes his claim to the work by quoting the ''Spring'' theme from his Four Seasons (which had been published only a few months previously) in the introductory sinfonia and, moreover, linking that with the opening chorus. The work adheres to the traditional opera seria structure of not more than one aria in each 'scene': all of these are in da capo form (the singers here stylishly embellishing the reprises), and several are simile arias, in the fashion of the time. In general the music is vigorous, with plenty of opportunities for the singers to display their prowess, but Vivaldi also knows how to be touching in moments of pathos (as in Dorilla's ''Se amarti non poss'io'' and ''11 povero mio core'', with its surprising chromaticisms). There is a short hunting scene to end Act 2, in which the horns in the orchestra have the time of their lives. (The booklet, incidentally, is wrong in stating that the wind instruments play only in ensembles, not in the arias; and Nomio has three arias, not two, as it says.)
The opera is basically well cast throughout, and Bezzina secures a good dramatic flow, with recitatives particularly well handled. The production, however, leaves a good deal to be desired. Without the text (inaccurate as it often is) to guide one, the chorus at the start of the opera might as well be singing in Choctaw; levels between singers (who tend to appear in the extreme left or right channel) and orchestra are uneven, and the excellent Philippe Cantor is consistently louder than the others; the dark-voiced Maria Cristina Kiehr (an Argentinian) is allowed repeatedly to mispronounce 'ch' as in French rather than in Italian; Consuelo Caroli (a Mexican) does not recognize the tearful emotion in two of her arias, but simply stands and delivers; even the dependable John Elwes breaks the sense in one place by taking a breath between an adjective and its attached noun. A performance not without flaws, then, even if its intentions were good; but at least it gives us the chance to become acquainted with Vivaldi in his less familiar role of opera composer.'