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Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
La Verità in Cimento, RV 739 (1720)  Highlights (track details at foot of review)
Rosane – Gemma Bertagnoli (sop); Rustena – Guillemette Laurens (mezzo); Melindo – Sara Mingardo (contralto); Damira – Nathalie Stutzmann (contralto); Zelim – Philippe Jaroussky (counter-tenor); Mamud – Anthony Rolfe Johnson (tenor)
Ensemble Matheus/Jean-Christophe Spinosi
rec. Sept. 2000, Abbaye de Daoulas, France
Notes and plot summary in French and English, texts in Italian, French and English.
NAÏVE OP30452 [66:36] 
Experience Classicsonline


This CD has all the usual advantages and disadvantages of operatic highlight discs, which are pretty obvious and needn’t be elaborated here. Suffice it to say that if you want to come to something like a full appreciation of La verità in cimento (‘Truth put to the test’ or an ‘Truth on trial’) you will need to hear the full version from which these extracts are taken. It’s still available as a 3 CD set on NAÏVE 30365. If you simply want to relish the joy of some astonishing singing and playing, or want to understand why the operas released in The Vivaldi Edition have generated so much passionate enthusiasm, then this single disc would be a good place to start.

And how this disc itself starts! In the three movements of the Sinfonia Jean-Christophe Spinosi and the Ensemble Mattheus produce playing of astonishing forcefulness, in which the gut-stringed basses and cellos attack the accented notes with startling force; one suspects that audiences in baroque opera houses sometimes went as much for social as musical purposes (when were things ever otherwise?), but the audience in the Teatro San Angelo in Venice for the first night of this opera in 1720 must surely have had their attention very firmly gripped by the opening bars of this sinfonia. And it is hard to imagine that their attention flagged very often in what followed. 

The opera has as convoluted a plot as many of its fellows, this time revolving around the complicated consequences of a substitution made some years previously, when Mamud, the Sultan of Cambaja, fathered two sons, one on his wife the Sultane (Rustena) and one on his mistress Damira. Born on the same day, for all the years since the illegitimate son (Melindo) has passed as the legitimate heir and vice-versa. Now, the Sultan wants to reveal the truth, but the complications of love and jealousy make it difficult, to put it mildly, for him to do so. Eventually all is sorted out, primarily through the magnanimity of Zelim, the Sultan’s legitimate son. 

The plot gives rise to plenty of occasions for the expression of a variety of emotions – love and hope, jealousy and scorn, anger and generosity of spirit. At every turn Vivaldi (and his librettist Giovanni Palazzi) rise to the occasion. The performers here relish every emotional twist and turn and respond with uniform bravura. Gemma Bertagnolli sings with great vivacity and ravishing coloratura; Sara Mingardo brings a rich expressiveness to the role of Melindo and Guillemette Laurens is memorable in her Act I aria ‘Fragil fior, ch’appena nasce’. Philippe Jaroussky – less well known at the time of this recording than he is now – sings with an astonishing purity of voice and grace of line. Nathalie Stutzmann comes close to stealing the show as Damira, expressing the text with marvellous venom and vehemence, creating in every way a character with whom few would be in a hurry to tangle, her performance of ‘Lagrimette alle pupille’ in Act III a virtuoso display of vocal control and, simultaneously, a wonderful piece of characterisation. Anthony Rolfe Johnson dazzles less, but brings great judgement and a shrewdness of psychological perception to his portrayal of the Sultan Mamud. There are, in short, absolutely no weak links in a marvellous cast. The interplay of voices in two ensemble arias, the trio ‘Aure placide, e serene’ in Act I and the quintet ‘Anima mia, mio ben’ on Act II gives the lie to the charge that is sometimes made, that Vivaldi can only write for soloists. In ‘Aure placide’, indeed, there are early glimmerings (in miniature) of the kind of thing that Mozart and da Ponte were later to bring to perfection, as Rosane, Zelim and Melindo express contrasting emotions in musical lines which are beautifully synthesised. 

Vivaldi’s orchestral writing is a constant source of delight too – the brass held back until Act III and wonderfully potent on their arrival – especially as interpreted by Spinosi and the Ensemble Matheus. Spinosi may be a bit on the melodramatic or exaggerated side for some tastes, but I confess to finding him utterly persuasive in this music. A vivid recorded sound adds yet more lustre to the whole.

Glyn Pursglove 

Track Details
Sinfonia [4:08]
Act I:
Mi fè reo l’amor d’un figlio [4:12]
Solo quella guancia bella [2:08]
Tu m’offendi [5:49]
Se l’acquisto di quell Soglio [3:31]
Fragil fior, ch’appena nasce [3:37]
Aure placide, e serene [3:07]
Mi vuoi tradir, lo so [3:26]
Amato ben tu sei la mia speranza [6:31]
Act II:
Un tenero affetto [4:17]
Anima mia, mio ben [3:59]
Act III:
Crudele, tu brami [4:06]
Quando serve alla ragione [3:29]
Lagrimete alle pupille [3:46]
Cara sorte di chi nata [3:47]
Con cento, e cento baci [2:52]
Sia conforto alle tue piaghe [2:59]
Doppo I nimbi, e le procelle [1:09]

 



 




 


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