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Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Tito Manlio (Titus Manlius), Dramma per musica, RV 738 (1719)
Roman Side:
Titus Manlius, Sergio Foresti, bass
Vitellia, Rosa Dominguez, mezzo
Young Manlius, Elisabeth Scholl, soprano
Decius, Thierry Grégoire, counter-tenor
Latin Side:
Servilia, Lucia Sciannimanico, mezzo
Lucius, Nicky Kennedy, soprano
Geminius, Davide Livermore, tenor
Lindus, Bruno Taddia, baritone
Modo Antiquo/Federico Maria Sardelli
rec. Chiesa del Santissimo Crocifisso, Barga, Tuscany, Italy, 13-21 July 2003. DDD
World premiere and complete recording on original instruments
CPO 777 096-2  [3 CDs: 67.03 + 60.06 + 67.45]


Releases of Vivaldi operas are now becoming increasingly common in the catalogues with at least two labels providing a series of new recordings of these previously ignored scores. The German-based CPO label have released a live set of the three act opera Tito Manlio (Titus Manlius) which claims to be a, ‘world première and complete recording performed on original instruments’. This CPO version was recorded at live performances of the opera staged at the Opera Barga Festival. So much for the contention that the recordings of operas are a thing of the past. The French label Naïve has just released a studio version of the Tito Manlio with the Accademia Bizantina under the direction of Ottavio Dantone, on Opus III, OP30413. Also this month DG’s Archiv Produktion have issued a world première recording of Vivaldi’s recently rediscovered opera Montezuma from Il Complesso Barocco under Alan Curtis on Deutsche Grammophon 4775996.

This may prove to be the golden age for period-informed performances of Vivaldi scores on record. There are several outstanding specialist period-instrument ensembles that have come to prominence on the late-baroque scene in the last ten or so years and have successfully raised the game. Earlier pioneering interpretations of Vivaldi and baroque music in general using period-instruments were constrained by the severe limitations of their instruments. Consequently performance style often came across as technically mechanical, rather lacklustre, frequently insipid and even sterile. The contemporary specialist performers on this CPO set explore and exploit the strength of their period instruments rather than being restricted by the weaknesses.

The leading period-instrument ensembles include most notably: the Concerto Italiano under Rinaldo Alessandrini; the Venice Baroque Orchestra under Andrea Marcon; Europa Galante under Fabio Biondi; L'Arte dell'Arco under baroque violinist Federico Guglielmo; The English Concert now that they are directed by Andrew Manze; the Ensemble Explorations under Roel Dieltiens; the Freiburger Barockorchester under Gottfried von der Goltz and the Polish-based Arte Dei Suonatori under Rachel Podger.

Tito Manlio (Titus Manlius) is the last of the four operas composed by Vivaldi during 1718-20, in Mantua, for Prince Philipp von Hessen-Darmstadt, who was the Habsburg Governor plenipotentiary ruling on behalf of the Habsburg crown. Working against the clock to prepare a work for Prince Philipp of Mantua’s forthcoming wedding, the front of the autograph score indicates that Vivaldi spent only five days on the compilation of the score. This most likely refers to the time taken for the revision process rather than the composition of the score in its entirety. The first performance of Tito Manlio was given at the Teatro Arciducale detto il Comico, Mantua in 1719.

The librettist Matteo Noris was a prominent figure in Venetian opera circles in the second half of the seventeenth century and his appealing text of Tito Manlio was set by several early eighteenth century composers, in addition to Vivaldi. In Tito Manlio Vivaldi depicts a set of astonishingly lively and individualised characters in a typically complicated and often ridiculous plot that moves at a breathless pace. The score stands out for the virtuosity of its vocal parts and the high quality of its arias. To do full justice to this well assembled cast of vocal types, it was necessary to find eight first-class singers, possessing not only considerable technical and expressive capacities, but also subtle differences in timbre and colour.

The opera tells the story of Titus Manlius, the Roman Consul, who is engaged in war with the people of Latium. Conflicts of love and duty arise, with his daughter Vitellia in love with the Latin commander Geminius, but loved by the Latin Knight Lucius. Manlius, the son of Titus Manlius, kills Geminius, disobeying his father, and is condemned to death, in spite of the pleas of his beloved Servilia, sister of Geminius. Titus Manlius rejects the offer of Lucius to free him, but eventually father and son are reconciled.

The gallery of remarkable characters features Titus Manlius’s son, the heroic young Manlius, who is given a series of astounding virtuoso arias. Young Manlius is cast here no longer as a castrato but as a female soprano played by the German-born Elisabeth Scholl. With a steady and firm voice, exhibiting virtually no vibrato, Scholl is successful as Manlius, especially in the arias, “Perche t’amo” and in “Sia con pace, o Roma augusta” where her voice is urgent and dramatic. Scholl is excellent in her aria with the horn accompaniment, “Se non v’aprite al di” and she presents a tragic quality in the aria, “Ti lascierei gl’affetti miei” which is accompanied by the mellow sounds of muted oboes and bassoons. I did detect slight tuning difficulties from Scholl in the arioso, “Sonno, se pur sei sonno” but otherwise the effect was appealing. Soprano Scholl hits top form in her engaging aria, “Doppo si rei disastri” with a sparklingly sung performance. Here Vivaldi’s colourful orchestral accompaniment is especially conspicuous.

Titus Manlius, as the Roman Consul, is a strict and cruel figure possessing all the qualities of a belligerent and threatening character as portrayed by the Italian bass Sergio Foresti. In Titus’s aria, “Se il cor guerriero”, where the orchestral accompaniment could have come straight out of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, Foresti displays a rich and characterful voice, although he seemed marginally uncomfortable in the lower register. The Italian bass is confident, displaying a smoother projection in the aria “No, che non vedra”.

Titus’s daughter Vitellia, beloved of Geminius, is played by Rosa Dominguez the Argentinean mezzo. Vitellia is endowed with a cruel disposition similar to her father. The striking voice of Dominguez, although a touch uncomfortable in her top register, can be a convincingly revengeful Geminius as displayed in her aria “Grida quel sangue.” In her lengthy ‘duet’ with the solo cello in “Di verdi ulivo” Dominguez reveals the tender side of Geminius’s character. Her voice throughout is smooth and creamy, yet perhaps she could have displayed slightly more expression.  

The commander of the Roman troops, the centurion Decius is sung by the counter-tenor Thierry Grégoire. Decius’s stirs strong emotions with his moving, “No, che non morira”. Grégoire, who displays exemplary diction throughout, is warm and expressive in his aria, “E’ pur dolce ad un’anima amante” and pleasantly agile in the excellent aria, “No, che non morira”.

The tenor Davide Livermore as Geminius, the commander of the Latin troops, appears and disappears with the might of a lightning bolt. Geminius, who is engaged to Vitellia, is provided by Vivaldi with intensive recitatives that Livermore performs with accomplishment.

Soprano Nicky Kennedy is cast as the heroic figure of the Latin Knight Lucius. Kennedy rather flutters her way through her aria with horn, where Lucius proclaims his love for Vitellia in, “Alla caccia d’un bell’adorato”. In her extended aria, “Non ti lusinghi la crudeltade” Kennedy has steadied and gives a smooth and appealing performance. The rich woodwind accompaniment is outstanding here. In Lucius’s aria with the virtuosic trumpet part, “Combatta un gentil cor” the soprano is in especially fine shape. Vivaldi’s varied accompaniment is especially evident. Kennedy maintains her rather uneven performance seemingly finding difficulty keeping up with the swift pace in her important aria, “Fra le Procelle”. In the aria, “Chi seguir vuol la costanza” Kennedy returns to top form singing with an abundance of charm.

Mezzo Lucia Sciannimanico, as Servilia, is the sister of the Latin commander Geminius and betrothed to Manlius. Servilia is devastated by the death of her brother and the judgement meted out to her betrothed Manlius. The tragic bitterness in Sciannimanico’s aria, “Liquore ingrato” is apparent in spite of a rather warbling performance. Servilia’s air of resignation in the lengthy aria with the flute overlay, “Sempre copra notte oscura” is admirably portrayed by Sciannimanico. She has a light unobtrusive vibrato and here seems slightly less secure in the lower register of her range. In the highly appealing aria, “Tu dormi in tante pene” and in “Andro fida e sconsolata” Sciannimanico is on top form, displaying an attractively rich and creamy timbre. Vivaldi’s orchestral writing is superb throughout and Servilia’s aria, “Tu dormi in tante pene” includes a delectable passage for the solo violin.    

Bruno Taddia takes the comic bass-baritone part of Lindus the Latin servant of Vitellia. In the arias, “L’intendo e non l’intendo” and “Rabbia che accendasi” Taddia is commanding and expressive. Of special note is the well sustained and bold singing in the aria “Brutta cosa e far la spia”.

On the evidence of this CPO release the forces of the period-instrument ensemble Modo Antiquo, under the expert direction of Federico Maria Sardelli, prove themselves to be at the forefront of historically informed late-baroque interpretation. I just love their unrestrained enthusiasm for Vivaldi’s score, in this well cast live account. It is stylish as well as being infused with immediacy and vivacity.

The sound quality is most pleasing and one is not aware of the audience. The plentiful and informative annotation is of a good standard, although there are a few errors here and there. This Vivaldi series on CPO goes from strength to strength. Recommended.

Michael Cookson





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