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Early Music

Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger

Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
La verità in cimento RV 739 (1720)
Nathalie Stutzmann, contralto
Gemma Bertagnoli, soprano
Sara Mingardo, contralto
Guillemette Laurens, mezzo-soprano
Philippe Jaroussky, counter-tenor
Anthony Rolfe Johnson, ténor
Ensemble Matheus/Jean-Christophe Spinosi
Rec: September 2002, Eglise de Doulas, France
OPUS 111 OP30365 [136.13]


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Vivaldi's opera La verità in cimento was first performed in Venice in 1720 in the small Teatro S. Angelo. Competition was rife, and Vivaldi could not secure one of the larger theaters for the performance. This work was controversial, and led to a polemic between those who wanted a more conservative form of opera to continue, and those, such as Vivaldi, who had a new vision. Yet this controversy helped La verità in cimento be a success, not only in Venice, but also throughout Europe. Of all Vivaldi's operas, none is found in more copies in European libraries.

The first thing that surprises in this recording is the proximity of the soloists in the soundscape. After an opening sinfonia in three movements, where the orchestra is heard as in a hall or church, the opening recitative sounds as though the singer were in your living room. All the vocalists are this close during the recitatives, which is a bit disconcerting. When singing arias they sound as if they took a few steps back to let the orchestra through. But overall the sound is disappointing.

The Ensemble Matheus joins here with an interesting group of soloists, but disappointments abound. Contralto Nathalie Stutzmann has an attractive, dark voice, but wavers too much, and her vibrato seems to flow against the music. Unfortunately, this vibrato seems to be contagious - Gemma Bertagnoli, who is in fine voice in spite of this, overdoes it as well. Given the small orchestra backing up these singers, the vibrato stands out far too much.

Counter-tenor Philppe Jaroussky is excellent, and his first aria, Tu m'offendi, is one of the finest numbers in this work. Jaroussky has a very feminine sounding voice, which fits well with the high range of this aria. Anthony Rolfe Johnson is excellent as Mamud; his aria Vinta a pie d'un dolce affeto, in act 2, is one of the high points of the recording. He combines a strong voice with subtle phrasing, which, together with the driving accompaniment, is memorable.

Another admirable moment is the quintet at the end of the second act. It is always difficult to have so many soloists work together so perfectly, but their voices meld and flow like honey in this fine piece.

The orchestra is effective and sounds good, though the recitative accompaniments sound strange - sometimes harsh, sometimes too distant, they don't seem to accord with the soloists at this time. But when backing the singers in their arias, the orchestra is well balanced and incisive though perhaps too much for some tastes. There are many sharp edges; this music could do with a bit of softening and subtlety.

All this adds up to a recording that will please some and irk others. This is fine music, but the performances are not ideal. This is the only currently available recording of this work so Vivaldi fans will want to snap it up. Unfortunately it is not as good as some of the other excellent recordings that Opus 111 has released in their Vivaldi series.

Kirk McElhearn

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