Vivaldi (La) Verità in cimento

Opera as Vivaldi would most liked to have composed it enjoyably performed, superbly directed and well worth investigating

Record and Artist Details

Composer or Director: Antonio Vivaldi

Genre:

Opera

Label: Opus 111

Media Format: CD or Download

Mastering:

Stereo
DDD

Catalogue Number: OP30365

Tracks:

Composition Artist Credit
(La) Verita' in Cimento Antonio Vivaldi, Composer
Anthony Rolfe Johnson, Mamud, Tenor
Antonio Vivaldi, Composer
Ensemble Matheus
Gemma Bertagnolli, Rosane, Soprano
Guillemette Laurens, Rustena, Mezzo soprano
Jean-Christophe Spinosi, Violin
Nathalie Stutzmann, Damira, Contralto (Female alto)
Philippe Jaroussky, Zelim, Countertenor
Sara Mingardo, Melindo, Contralto (Female alto)
I do not know who, if anyone, was the model for the character of Sultan Mamud in Vivaldi’s opera La verità in cimento (‘The truth contested’), but whoever it was we may glad that we have never had him ruling over us. Having discreetly swapped the sons of his wife and mistress at birth to quiet the latter’s complaints, he regrets his decision years later when it is time for the young men to marry. His attempts to clear matters up, however, result only in an unholy domestic mess in which his wife Rustena, legitimate son Zelim (until now believed to be a bastard) and illegitimate son Melindo (hitherto treated as a prince) are left to flounder around not knowing who they are, where they stand, who they love or who they hate. Meanwhile canny daughter-in-law-to-be Rosane, whose natural preference is for whichever son is truly royal, vacillates, and the Sultan blusters around issuing desperate orders that nobody is interested in following. Only his scheming mistress Damira, eager to maintain Melindo’s position, maintains any kind of control of things.

It sounds a little silly, perhaps, and it is true that there is a comic element in the 13th of Vivaldi’s 40-or-so surviving operas that would be hard to ignore in a staged performance: the flighty Rosane, the slow-witted Rustena and the ineffectual Mamud could almost find a place in a Jane Austen novel. Yet there is seriousness here too: Mamud’s actions cause anguish and hurt in his family, and the scene in which Zelim sacrifices his love for Rosane, having seen the insane distress to which the situation has reduced the jealous Melindo, is a genuinely moving one.

The booklet notes speculate that Vivaldi enjoyed an unusual degree of control over the circumstances of La verità’s first production in Venice in 1720, particularly as regards the libretto, and that therefore this is opera as he would most have liked to compose it. If that is so, then we can only regret that he did not have more opportunities to be his own man, for this is a more satisfying work than either Farnace or L’Olimpiade, the two other (later) operas of his to have appeared on disc in the past year. Many of the arias and ensembles are exquisite and picturesque in that way that only Vivaldi can be, but more importantly none of them this time seems inappropriate to its context; everything is apposite. All the characters, furthermore, are strongly drawn and believably human: Zelim, noble and generous, and Damira, a woman whose machinations are driven by selfless maternal love, are especially memorable.

The opera is well served by a fine cast which mixes established figures with relatively new names. As Zelim, countertenor Philippe Jaroussky has a secure and lyrical soprano voice well able to stir the emotions, while at the opposite end of the tessitura range Nathalie Stutzmann shows depth and power as Damira and Sara Mingardo (rapidly becoming a ‘must-have’ for Baroque opera recordings) deploys customary virtuosity and strength of personality as Melindo. Elsewhere, Gemma Bertagnolli is a delight as the fluffy Rosane, while as Rustena Guillemette Laurens, though deprived of the musical delights enjoyed by the others, displays sturdy acting ability as usual. Only Anthony Rolfe Johnson as Mamud is a slight disappointment, his voice having lost some of its honeyed quality of yore, and a touch of its composure as well.

The whole is directed with vice-like dramatic grip by Jean-Christophe Spinosi, who drills Ensemble Matheus with the kind of hard-hitting, rather coarse string sound, reinforced by a prominent continuo section, that can irritate at times, but which here seems largely in keeping with the needs of the opera. This is especially true in the recitatives, some quite long, which Spinosi takes a lot of trouble over, varying his accompanying instruments imaginatively and distinguishing cleverly between characters. The sound is rather close (more so in the recitatives than the arias), and quite a few non-musical noises creep in, but they cannot stop this release from being one of the most enjoyable among recent Baroque opera rarities.

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