It’s an oft-quoted
remark, I know, but here’s yet another
example of "London Bus Syndrome";
... wait for years and ... nothing ...
then two come at once.
As it happens Vivaldi’s
"Tito Manlio" has waited nearly
three decades for any recording, let
alone an ‘authentic’ one. Now in addition
to the discs under review CPO have issued
a rival by their ‘Vivaldi team’, Modo
Antiquo and Federico Maria Sardelli
(CPO 777 096-2). Although a colleague
these discs I do have some experience
of Sardelli’s approach to the composer
having purchased their earlier issue
of "Arsilda – regina di Ponto"
(CPO 999 740-2).
Ottavio Dantone is
one of several scholar/performers entrusted
with Naïve’s compendious ‘Vivaldi
Edition’, which will cover the collection
of the composer’s manuscripts to be
found in the National University Library
in Turin. It will therefore explore
a number of Vivaldi’s operas as well
as instrumental, choral and orchestral
a sort of relaxation after the pressures
of writing for the Venetian stage, being
designed for performance at the Mantuan
court of Prince Philipp of Hessen-Darmstadt,
governor of the city. Indeed it’s dedicated
to his bride; although the plot of family
feuding, emphasised by the peculiar
sadistic anger of its principal, seems
an odd choice for the encouragement
of nuptial bliss! Perhaps, just as well,
the bride-to-be called the wedding off
even before she had passed the city
walls, although true to the old maxim,
the show still went on.
Typical of the rather
tortuous plot constructions of the time,
the usual complications of various love
interests are over-arched by the theme
of conflict between duty and honour.
Manlio is sent by his father Tito to
parley with Geminio, leader of the Latins.
Although previously allies with the
Romans, the Latins have rebelled and
threatened Rome when the city refused
to appoint a Consul from their ranks.
Whilst in the Latin camp, Geminio taunts
Manlio, and in the resulting combat
is killed. On returning to the city
Manlio is confronted by Tito who feels
he has no option but to punish his son
for disobeying instructions. He condemns
him to death. A complex web of love,
honour and military revolt eventually
leads to reconciliation. No matter ...
when the opera is served by such drive,
intelligence and colour its vexatious
contortions seem to matter much less
Indeed Dantone’s orchestra,
Accademia Bizantina, may be familiar
to you from other distinguished issues,
since they are frequent collaborators
with Andreas Scholl on record. However
here they share centre-stage since,
important as the singers are, one of
Vivaldi’s major contributions to the
operatic form is the wealth of colour,
texture and experiment he draws, particularly
from his instrumental ensemble.
The conductor is very
aware of this facet of the composer’s
genius and seems to do his utmost to
emphasise it, without exaggeration,
including the accompanied recitatives.
Since these are quite extensive his
approach really pays off. The drama
is kept pulsing along, and with it the
interest of the listener.
To illustrate the variety
and the quality of Vivaldi’s invention,
and Dantone’s response to it, let us
briefly overview Act 2.
Near the opening we
find a short but fascinating aria "Dimprovviso
riede il riso" for Vitellia and
Servilia – yes, two characters.
Whilst the section is brief, it is an
excellent example of Vivaldi gently
stretching the boundaries of musical
taste. We are in 1719 after all, a time
when the "Doctrine of the Affections"
A little later Manlio’s
aria "Se non v’aprite al di"
exhibits fabulous horn playing (Academia
Bizantina’s Ermes Pecchinini one presumes),
which is followed shortly afterward
by Lindo’s rage aria "Rabbio che
accendesi". Vivaldi eschews all
the wind instruments but nevertheless
makes a spectacular tumult with simply
the complement of strings.
In the arietta "Dar
la morte a te, mia vita" we again
have Vitellia and Servilia singing in
an aria, on this occasion one verse
apiece but to different words, which
is followed in quick succession by the
rousing "Combatta un gentil cor",
(Let a noble heart fight), which is
the signal for unleashing the trumpets
– and what trumpets!
aria for his friend Manlio, "Non
che con morira" (No he shall not
die), marks a change of direction, with
a main theme broadly reminiscent of
Bach. Despite Decio’s persuasion Nicola
Ulivieri, as Tito, is implacably opposed
to such pleas in a splendid example
of characterful singing ... yet even
his resolve bends to allow Servilia
to visit Manlio in prison, following
her beautiful aria "Andro fidea,
e sconsolata"; the flow of gentle
entreaty marked by a beautiful flute,
strings and archlute accompaniment.
And this is but one
of three acts; acts where the wonderful
playing of the orchestra is reinforced
by an equally distinguished contribution
from the singers. Although it really
is invidious to pick out soloists in
such a fine cast, mention must be made
of both Ann Hallenberg and Karina Gauvin,
whose ‘straight’ singing whilst fine
enough, is excelled in the more technically
demanding passage work. "Liquore
ingrato’, one of Servilia’s arias, is
a real highlight. This sort of quality,
allied to the intelligence behind it,
provides rich rewards throughout.
Whilst not directly
comparing Naïve’s issue with Sardelli’s
new recording, I have nevertheless taken
time to match this newcomer against
the, now slightly venerable, Philips
discs conducted by Vittorio Negri (446
332-2, recorded in 1979 – CD issue 1995).
Despite utilising pretty
much the same text Negri negotiates
the score, with the Berlin Chamber Orchestra,
in just under four hours, necessitating
four discs. Dantone takes just over
three hours and his recording is contained
on three CDs. Whilst this speaks volumes
for differences in overall approach,
much of the vocal work in the earlier
set is very accomplished, Julia Hamari
(Servilia) and Birgit Finnila (Vitellia)
being worthy of special mention. It
is also interesting to note, as a sideline,
that a certain Jeffrey Tate is listed
among the continuo players!
Despite its qualities
Negri does seem, in direct comparison
with Dantone, rather statuesque in quality,
yet I would not put it lightly aside.
There is a dignity in his approach that
is not unwelcome ... this is a plot
centred on a Roman Consul and the exercise
of the rule of law after all!
Nevertheless I have
to report that Naïve have a real
gem of a recording here, which genuinely
gripped my attention. Having been much
taken with Sardelli’s "Asilda"
I will try and hear his new Tito,
but frankly, it will have to be exceptional
to supplant this set. Banish any lingering
thoughts that this is simply some sort
of "museum reconstruction".
This is living breathing drama – at
least as presented here. Very strongly