VIVALDI L’incoronazione di Dario
This is a staged equivalent to the CD recording welcomed by David Vickers (Naïve, 7/14). The conductor and most of the cast are the same, but the period-instrument Accademia Bizantina is replaced by the Teatro Regio’s own orchestra. The opera was staged in Venice in January 1717 but Adriano Morselli’s libretto dates back to 1684: it’s not an opera seria, therefore, but a light confection with serious moments. This is something of a relief and Leo Muscato directs with a sure hand, though yet again I have to deplore the compression of the standard three acts into two.
You can forget about Achaemenid Persia: the setting is a present-day Arab state, with appropriate costumes and a huge oil pipeline. The ghost of Cyrus appears, telling his daughters Statira and Argene that he is happy and they should stop mourning his death. Darius proposes that Statira should marry him, thereby enabling him to ascend the throne. Arpago and Oronte each have the same idea. Statira is exceptionally dim, much in need of advice from the courtier Niceno (who loves her), and manages to accept each suitor in turn. Argene is devious, plotting to oust her elder sister, but she eventually gets her comeuppance. Darius is none too bright, but he behaves heroically and ends up with Statira. Arpago and Oronte swear loyalty to Darius and Oronte is reconciled with Alinda, who has spent much of the opera reproaching him for reneging on his promise to marry her.
The music – recitatives and arias, not all of them da capo – is charming without being superficial, many of the tunes given a Neapolitan cast with their flattened supertonic harmony. One aria, Oronte’s minor-key siciliano ‘Non mi lusinga vana speranza’, is worthy of Bach. There’s one duet, Statira and Darius singing in euphonious sixths, which is all too short. The arias are mainly accompanied by the strings alone but there are some lovely solos: two violins for Argene, violin and cello for Statira, viola da gamba (supposedly emanating from an old-fashioned gramophone) for Statira and Niceno, and a comic bassoon obbligato for Niceno’s ‘Non lusinghi il core amante’.
Carlo Allemano, a little dry of voice, makes Darius both formidable and amusing. His rivals are well contrasted, Lucia Cirillo’s Oronte dressed in a bright yellow uniform, Veronica Cangemi’s Arpago a terrorist in dark glasses sporting a bandolier. Roberta Mameli’s Alinda is the acme of fury at her betrayal by Oronte, Romina Tomasoni is good as Flora, the comic maidservant, and Riccardo Novaro – though he should look older – is touching as the lovelorn Niceno. (For Niceno to threaten Statira seems out of character.) Delphine Galou makes a credibly scheming Argene and Sara Mingardo, in a long auburn wig, is quite brilliant as the feather-brained Statira. Both sing like angels. Ottavio Dantone gets zestful playing from his non-period orchestra. I enjoyed this a lot.