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Brilliant Classics

Antonio VIVALDI (1678 - 1741) Juditha Triumphans
Judith – Gloria Banditelli (mezzo-soprano)
Abra – Maria Zadori (soprano)
Holofernes - Judit Nemeth (mezzo-soprano)
Vagans – Annette Markert (mezzo-soprano)
Ozias – Katalin Gemes (mezzo-soprano)
Savaria Vocal Ensemble
Capella Savaria/Nicholas McGegan
Recorded 1990, licensed from Hungaroton
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 99961 [61.00 + 64.44]

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Juditha Triumphans is Vivaldi’s only surviving oratorio. It has done reasonably well on disc, partly because it fits neatly onto two CDs. Its success is also because it is a remarkable work, luxuriously orchestrated and designed to impress its original audience. Written for the Ospedale dell Pieta’s annual Lenten performances, it would surely have persuaded the wealthy Venetians into supporting the work of the Ospedale. Not only would the work have showcased the talents of the Ospedale’s female singers (as both chorus and soloists) but the instrumentalists are given a multiplicity of opportunities to display their talents in obbligato passages. A pair of clarinets helps characterise the dissolute Assyrian soldiers, breezes are characterised via a pair of recorders and there is even a quartet of theorbos. In one of Judith’s arias a chalumeau imitates a turtle dove and her other arias benefit from mandolin, viola d’amore and viole all’inglese obbligatos.

But Juditha Triumphans is not just a luxuriantly orchestrated showpiece. Vivaldi manages to create a significant dramatic situation within his two acts using just five singers. The city of Betulia is being besieged by an army of Assyrians led by the general Holofernes (Judit Nemeth, mezzo-soprano). His steward, Vagans (Annette Markert, mezzo-soprano), warns him of the approach of a noble widow from Betulia, Judith (Gloria Banditelli, mezzo-soprano). Judith is accompanied by her servant, Abra (Maria Zadori, soprano) who gives her confidence. She has come to sue for peace, but Holofernes is immensely smitten with her and asks her to dine with him. The high priest, Ozia, (Katalin Gemes, mezzo-soprano) predicts the overthrow of the pagan armies. Judith feigns love for Holofernes and when he falls asleep from too much drink she cuts off his head with his own sword.

This rather grisly biblical story was beloved of painters and resurfaced in Mozart’s ‘La Betulia Liberata’. But whereas Mozart depicts that action simply in narrative, Vivaldi chooses to dramatise the actual seduction and beheading. The result is highly dramatic and reasonably stageworthy – I remember it being staged at the Camden Festival.

Regarding the allocation of roles, for once there are no problems with looking for castrato replacements – Vivaldi wrote all the roles for female singers. He took care with his characterisation so that Judith has music of a noble and lyrical cast. This displays Gloria Banditelli’s fascinating dark voice, she makes a fine Judith but perhaps lacks a little in élan; though this is partly Vivaldi’s fault as by the end of the piece we are troubled by her rather callous behaviour towards a man who seems to have loved her. Somehow, by the end of the recording I would have liked Banditelli to make rather more of Judith’s nobility.

As Holofernes, Judith Nemeth displays a slightly lighter toned voice than Banditelli, something that can be confusing at first. Nemeth makes a dramatic Holofernes, but she is not always convincing in her use of coloratura, never making it count dramatically enough. In the important role of Judith’s servant Abra, Maria Zadori is a delight. Not only is she the only soprano in the cast, but her singing of Vivaldi’s sometimes complex vocal lines is both stylish and convincing. Katalin Gemes and Annette Markert provide firm support as Ozias and Vagans. Whilst the singing on the disc is always capable and convincing, I sometimes felt that it was only Zadori who had a really firm grasp of baroque sense and style.

The Capella Savaria under Nicholas McGegan provide stylish, flexible support and their various instrumentalists shine in the obbligato arias and the Savaria Vocale Ensemble make a strong contribution in their choruses.

Though the performance is a musical one, it does not always convey the work’s drama. For a more dramatic reading you might be best to look at one of the more recent recordings and for a truly fascinating reading look for Alessandro Marchi’s performance on Opus 111 where he transposes the chorus tenor and bass parts up an octave (something that Vivaldi is believed to have done when performing works with he all female chorus as the Pieta). Overall, though, this is a perfectly acceptable performance and anyone looking to explore this work will not go far wrong.

Robert Hugill

See also review by Jonathan Woolf


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