VIVALDI Orlando furioso
Vivaldi’s opera combines magic, heroism and comedy to tell of a seductive sorceress, a noble knight driven insane by love, a feisty fiancée who disguises herself as a man to rescue her bewitched lover, and a magic ring that helps ensure everything ends happily ever after. This new recording bears the fruit of Vivaldi scholar Frédéric Delaméa’s painstaking reconstruction of the original 1727 version using the complex manuscript source in the Biblioteca Nazionale in Turin. In contrast to Claudio Scimone’s meagre 15 arias on the rival Erato recording, Jean-Christophe Spinosi and Delaméa give us 27, and each one is a gem.
Marie-Nicole Lemieux’s delivery of Orlando’s anguished and often-unhinged recitative is astonishingly good, full of conviction, passionate, and vocally brilliant. Her impressive coloratura and dramatic quality is shown at its stirring best in the tempestuous aria ‘Sorge l’irato nembo’ (Act 2 scene 4). When sanity is restored to Orlando, Lemieux achieves a tangible lucidity that makes the drama wholly satisfying. Jennifer Larmore’s sorceress Alcina is devious, vivacious, and venomous: she has a deliciously spiteful exit worthy of Mozart’s Elettra in Idomeneo (‘Anderò, chiamerò dal profondo’).
Philippe Jaroussky’s Ruggerio is adept at both delicacy and heroism, and his ‘Sol da te, mio dolce amore’, conveying the enchantment as Ruggiero gazes at Alcina, is beautifully done. Ann Hallenberg is excellent as his fiancée Bradamante, with firmly focused tone in the extrovert ‘Taci, non ti lagnar’ (Vivaldi’s choice for this role, Maria Caterina Negri, went on to create Bradamante in Handel’s Alcina eight years later).
Ensemble Matheus provide bright ritornelli and intelligent accompaniments. The playing is often abrasive and intentionally percussive in fast music, but the performers also excel at the softer moments (most notably Angelica’s arias, and especially ‘Chiara al pari di lucida stella’). Spinosi’s direction is vividly theatrical, and recitatives are declaimed with aplomb, although sometimes it sounds as if characters cannot wait to interrupt with their next line. His policy of changing continuo instruments each time a different character sings occasionally makes for an uncomfortable and unsteady experience.
Most of Vivaldi’s surviving operas show that he rarely devoted much attention to accompanied recitatives, but in Orlando furioso Vivaldi composed several that are unusually extensive and adventurous. Like Handel a few years later in London, Vivaldi must have been inspired by the peculiarly intense situations experienced by Orlando and Alcina, and the score has a dramatic stature greater than most of his other operas – although if Opus 111 continue to produce revelations like this, I may be forced to eat my words. This is a magnificent achievement, and one of the pinnacles of Opus 111’s monumental Vivaldi Edition. If Vivaldi needed a champion to more firmly establish his credentials as a fully-fledged opera composer, then this recording is it.