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Francesco CAVALLI (1602 - 1676)
Didone (excerpts) (1641)
Act I, Finale: Passata dell'armata
Act II, Scene 5: Smoderati Insolenti
Act III, Scene 6: Dormi o cara
Act III, Scene 11: Porgetemi la spada
Act III, Finale: Son le tue leggi Amore - Godiam dunque godiamo!
Egisto (excerpts) (1643)
Act II, Scene 1: D'Hipparco - Lasso io vivo - Ma di chi mi lamento
Act III, Scene 9: Rendetemi Euridice!
Ormindo (excerpts) (1644)
Act I, Scene 8: Piante fiorite
Act I, Scene 8: Fortunato mio cor
Act I, Scene 8: A Dio
Act III, Scene 12: Io moro!
Act III, Scene 13: Oh ritrovato padre
Act III, Finale: D'Amor non si quereli
Giasone (excerpts) (1649)
Act I, Scene 2: Delitie e contenti
Act I, Scene 7: Son qui - Son gobbo son Demo - Linguaggio curioso
Act II, Scene 3: Ecco il fatal castello - Ti lascio
Act III, Scene 21: Isifile lamento: Infelice
Calisto (excerpts) (1651)
Act I, Scene 10: Piacere maggiore
Act I, Scene 11: Piangete
Act II, Scene 1: Erme e solinghe - Lucidissima face
Act III, Scene 7: Dolcissimi baci
Act III, Finale: Mio Tonante
Didone/Climene/Ormindo/Medea/Diana – Gloria Banditelli (mezzo-soprano)
Clori/Erisbe/Isifile/Calisto – Rosita Frisani (soprano)
Nettuno/Hipparco/Oreste/Giove – Roberto Abbondanza (baritone)
Jarba/Lidio/Giasone/Linfea/Endimione – Gianluca Belfiori Doro (counter-tenor)
Enea/Egisto/Amida/Demo/Mercurio - Mario Cecchetti (tenor)
Mediterranea Concento/Sergio Vartolo
rec. Chiesa Vecchia di San Zeno, Cavalo, Verona, Italy, 1–4 November 2003
NAXOS 8.557746 [76.34]

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It was a marriage into a rich Venetian family which enabled Cavalli to devote much of his working life to financially insecure operatic ventures. Trained at St. Mark’s, Venice, under Monteverdi he would eventually take a post as organist at the Basilica. Cavalli wrote operas for the commercial theatres in Venice. His plots are much closer to Monteverdi’s L’Incoronazione di Poppea than to the stately nobility of Orfeo.

These works tell complex, soap-opera like, plots involving the loves of mythological heroes and heroines, mixing serious and comic characters in an intoxicating melange of flexible arioso, recitative and arias. Cavalli’s strengths included the singability of his music. His operas are typified by the fluidity of the construction of his scenes – the formalised structures of the later baroque opera are a world away.

Cavalli wrote some 40 operas and many of these have enjoyed revivals in modern times, though they are still not commonplace fare in the modern operatic world. On this disc Sergio Vartolo and his group Mediterraneo Concento perform excerpts from five of Cavalli’s best known operas with a cast of five Italian singers.

It is these latter who are the main attraction of the disc; until relatively recently early Italian opera sung by native speakers was rare. Now thankfully it is becoming more common, and we can fully appreciate Cavalli’s long, flexible structures which hover between recitative and arioso and put the primacy onto the singer’s emotional delivery of the text.

Didone tells the familiar story of Dido (Didone) and Aeneas (Enea), with one or two extra elaborations. The disc starts with the Act 1 finale, describing the Trojan army, a wonderfully vigorous piece with prominent drumming. Neptune’s (Nettuno) intervention, calming a storm which threatens the fleet is vividly sung by Roberto Abbondanza, displaying a well-projected baritone voice. Tenor Mario Cecchetti’s lyrical account of Aeneas’s farewell to the sleeping Dido is lovely if a little understated. Gloria Banditelli sings Dido’s lament with a noble, dignified passion though perhaps she just fails to wring the heart. The excerpts conclude with the love duet between Iarbas (Jarba) and Dido, something not to be found in Purcell or Berlioz. Whatever the tribulations that the heroes and heroines went through, convention dictated that all loose ends were tied in a happy ending. Still, the resulting love duet is a charming, if short, lyrical movement.

In Egisto, Aegisthus (Egisto), who is a descendant of Apollo, must go through a variety of tribulations, including madness, before his love affairs are settled in a satisfactory manner. His Lament arises because he discovers that his love, Chloris (Clori), is in love with another. The resulting passacaglia is a long, powerful movement well projected by Cecchetti. Cavalli’s light-hearted movements are rarely extended; one of his specialities was the short, delightful arietta. But another area where he excelled was in writing Laments; these are extended movements in which the singer has to alternate between emotions, displaying languor, fury, invective and repentance. In this example, Cecchetti acquits himself very well.

In the other extended scene from Egisto, Aegisthus has been turned mad with grief having been betrayed by his beloved. His episodes of increasing delirium are punctuated by comment from his friends. The resulting scene is strongly delivered by Cecchetti, Rosita Frisani, Gloria Banditelli, Gianluca Belfiori Doro and Roberto Abbondanza. Though the scene may have been chosen as it gives all of them the opportunity to sing together, the result is a very strong example of Cavalli’s distinctive contribution to operatic drama. I wish that the disc had included more extended scenes.

Cavalli’s operas can be difficult to anthologise as his melodic ariettas can be remarkably short. The six items from Ormindo (four arias and trio and duet a-piece) are each under two minutes duration. Although they are beautifully sung, the characters barely get a chance to register. In such pieces as Ormindo’s accompanied solo Oh ritrovato padre, Banditelli has little chance to build on the passionate intensity of the words. If Vartolo had chosen fewer arias and accompanied them with more recitative, the singers might have been able to bring out the character of the pieces with greater effect. After all, the first three excerpts from Ormindo are all taken from Scene 8. Couldn’t we have had more of this scene.

Giasone tells of the adventures of Jason (Giasone) as he gets distracted from his main task of searching for the Golden Fleece by more amorous pursuits. Counter-tenor Gianluca Belfiori Doro has an attractive, rather feminine-sounding voice. He well articulates Jason’s delight in the joys of love in the lyrical dance movement Delitie e contenti – one of the rare extended joyful pieces on the disc. Orestes (Oreste) is intercepted by the comic, stuttering servant Demos (Demo) who challenges Orestes to a duel. The resulting comic scene is well taken by Abbondanza and Cecchetti. The latter even manages to stutter in a comically musical fashion. Rosita Frisani manages the bewildering changes of mood in Hypsipile’s (Isifile) lament, though for me her soprano voice has a little too much vibrato in its upper registers. Though this lament is one of the longer items, the lack of preceding recitative means that Frisani has less time to build character and the resulting performance, though musical, just misses the searing intensity needed in the closing passages. The excerpts from Giasone conclude with a charming, short duet for Medea and Hypsipile.

Cavalli’s Calisto is perhaps best known in England from the performances at Glyndebourne for which Raymond Leppard directed a cast led by Janet Baker. Here Calisto is taken by Frisani. Banditelli contributes a dignified Diana. As Endymion, Belfiori Doro provides a lyrical invocation to the moon and the disc concludes with two short duets of reconciliation, between Diana and Endymion (Endimione) and between Calisto and Jupiter (Giove).

Vargo uses quite a small instrumental group, just eleven players, and for much of the disc we hear his own fine harpsichord accompaniment.

Whilst occasionally you might question the choice of excerpts or details of the performance, overall this Italian-speaking cast provide a good introduction to Cavalli’s operas. This is a disc to buy as an experiment, with the hope that the infectious enthusiasm of the cast will rub off and result in the acquisition of further, complete operas by this fine composer.

Robert Hugill


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