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Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Motezuma, Dramma per musica, in three acts, RV 723 (1733)
Libretto by Luigi (Girolamo?) Giusti
Musical reconstruction of the missing parts by Alessandro Ciccolini
Motezuma, Vito Priante (baritone)
Mitrena, Marijana Mijanovic (contralto)
Teutile, Roberta Invernizzi (soprano)
Fernando, Maite Beaumont (mezzo)
Ramiro, Romina Basso (mezzo)
Asprano, Inga Kalna (soprano)
Il Complesso Barocco/Alan Curtis (harpsichord)
rec. San Martino al Cimino, (Italy), Palazzo Doria Pamphilj, Sala Olimpia, November 2005. DDD
World première recording
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON ARCHIV PRODUKTION 477 5996 [3 CDs: 77.00 + 63.41 + 54.07]

Deutsche Grammophon’s early music label Archiv Produktion have released a world première recording of Vivaldi’s recently rediscovered opera Motezuma. This is performed on original instruments by Il Complesso Barocco and directed by Alan Curtis.
 
Two-hundred and seventy-two years earlier Motezuma had its first performance on 14 November 1733, at the Teatro di Sant’Angelo, in Venice. The manuscript score, which has had a most convoluted history, was found to be incomplete and was reconstructed by musicologist Alessandro Ciccolini.
 
Vivaldi may have exaggerated when he claimed to have written over ninety operas, but I understand that some fifty librettos survive along with sixteen full and four partial scores. Releases of Vivaldi operas are now becoming increasingly common in the catalogues with at least three labels currently providing a series of new recordings of these previously ignored dramatic scores. The present version was recorded as recently as November 2005 in Italy, at San Martino al Cimino, near Viterbo.
 
Following hot on the heels of acclaimed new recordings released last year of Orlando furioso on Naïve and Bajazet on Virgin Classics, Naïve have this month (February 2006) released a studio version of Tito Manlio with the Accademia Bizantina under the direction of Ottavio Dantone, on Opus III, OP 30413. Within the last two weeks a review copy arrived of a live recording of Tito Manlio on period-instruments with Modo Antiquo under the direction of Federico Maria Sardelli on CPO 777 096-2. So much for the contention that recordings of operas are a thing of the past.
 
The record labels Archiv Produktion, CPO and Naïve are to be congratulated for enabling the listener to explore the extensive variety of Vivaldi’s output by using the finest possible period-instrument ensembles, eminent late-baroque vocal specialists and the finest choirs in the field of historically informed performance. I believe this may prove to be the golden age for recordings of period-informed performances of Vivaldi scores.
 
Until recently, the only surviving trace of Vivaldi’s opera Motezuma was the published libretto by Luigi (Girolamo?) Giusti. In 2002, the German musicologist Steffen Voss was searching the archive in the Berlin Sing-Akademie for lost Handel cantata scores and discovered the manuscript to Vivaldi’s Motezuma; a score long believed lost. Although the score’s cover page was missing Steffen Voss was familiar with the libretto of Motezuma and recognised the names of the voice parts, convinced he had found a missing treasure. Kees Vlaardingerbroek, a Vivaldi scholar and artistic director of the Congresgebouw de Doelen in Rotterdam holds the view that, “This is the most important Vivaldi discovery in 75 years, since Vivaldi’s own archives were found in the 1920s.” Incidentally, the Berlin Sing-Akademie is the music society that in 1829 organised Mendelssohn’s famous performance of J.S. Bach’s rediscovered St. Matthew Passion.
 
The disorganized music library of the Berlin Sing-Akademie archive, strangely enough in the 150 years of their stewardship, had never been properly catalogued. In 1943 owing to severe Allied bombing, Joseph Goebbels the German Propaganda Minister in his position of ‘Gauleiter’ of Berlin ordered that over 560 mostly private art collections be taken to safety. They were removed from the City for safekeeping and housed in suitable locations, far away from the turmoil of war, in a variety of mines, tunnels, cloisters and castles. It seems that the music archive of the Berlin Sing-Akademie was packed up and included in this evacuation. The Third Reich would normally have kept meticulous records of such treasures, however, in this case only a basic log was noted. This indicated that a collection fourteen boxes with more than five thousand compositions, in old manuscripts and prints from the Berlin Sing-Akademie archive, were to be transported to Schloss Ullersdorf, in Silesia. This was the last sign of life for the archive in the West for the next 56 years. During this time many devotees became worried and unsure whether everything had been destroyed after all. Ironically, less than three months after the evacuation of the archive an allied air-raid on Berlin destroyed the building of the Sing-Akademie. It would seem that at some stage the occupying Red Army commandeered the Sing-Akademie archive from Silesia, which was taken into the USSR to the Conservatory of Kiev (now Ukraine). Apparently in 1973 the whole archive was moved to the new Central State Archive and Museum of Literature and Art of Ukraine, in Kiev. In 1999, investigations by researcher Dr. Patricia Kennedy Grimsted uncovered the whereabouts of the secret archive, who in turn alerted Christoph Wolff, Professor of Music at Harvard University to the discovery.
 
There was much political wrangling and considerable financial restitution to the Ukrainian authorities from Germany for the return of the archive. Perhaps the Ukrainian authorities wanting to become more acceptable to the European Union was a factor in returning the archive to their rightful owners in Berlin in 2001. It was during research of the archive’s treasures in Kiev that Vivaldi’s Motezuma was identified by Steffen Voss and the manuscript was returned to Berlin the same year. The score to Motezuma is now appropriately housed in the Staats-bibliothek zu Berlin (Berlin State Library).
 
It is a mystery how a secondary copy of Vivaldi’s Motezuma came to be stored in Berlin in the first place. We know that J.S. Bach admired Vivaldi’s L’estro armonico, the set of violin concertos published at Amsterdam, in 1711. It is only speculation as to whether a member of J.S. Bach’s family might actually have been interested in studying one of Vivaldi’s operas in manuscript. There is an excellent photograph taken in 1939 of the Library of the Berlin Sing-Akademie contained in the article by Johannes Boer entitled, ‘Will the Sing-Akademie remain master of its music? Adventures around the Greatest Musicological Find of the Century’ on: www.oudemuziek.nl/english/tijdschrift/artikelSAK.htm
 
Conductor Alan Curtis when asked about how he first heard about the discovery of the Motezuma manuscript stated, “One can hardly speak of the ‘discovery’ of a manuscript which, clearly labelled, has been in a collection open to the public for over 200 years. Before World War II, there was really no interest in Vivaldi’s dramatic music, and an announced discovery would in any case have received very little attention. During the manuscript’s ‘exile’ in Kiev, although it was consulted by Russian musicians, apparently no one found it worth performing or publishing. Soon after its return to Berlin, my friend Donna Leon told me about it, having heard it described by her friend Natalie Luebben, who works in the same law firm as Georg Graf zu Castell-Castell, president of the Sing-Akademie. I immediately asked to see it and spent several exciting hours studying and comparing the hitherto unknown music with the known published libretto, which I had from my old friend Jean-Claude Malgoire’s recording of his pasticcio, made in 1992.”
 
Vivaldi’s opera Motezuma originally contained 28 numbers, while the incomplete Berlin manuscript contains only 17 (including all of Act II and important arias in Acts I and III). Even so, Motezuma is unquestionably one of the most exciting and significant Vivaldi discoveries since the composer’s personal collection of manuscripts was reunited at Turin in the 1920s. Performers and scholars were faced with the challenge of reconstruction and the composition of a large amount of missing recitative. The re-discovered manuscript has three missing fragments, the opening of the first act and the opening and the final chorus in the third act. The American scholar, harpsichordist and conductor Alan Curtis, who is one of the leading experts on Baroque music, became involved with the editing and reconstruction of the missing music from the recovered manuscript. Curtis explains that the musicologist and composer Alessandro Ciccolini, who is acknowledged as one of the greatest authorities on Vivaldi, “composed the missing recitatives, adapted certain arias that had prosodic, as well as musical and dramatic affinities with the texts, and made use of his vast knowledge of Vivaldi’s style and compositional practices combined with his own skill and fantasy to supply the rest, always with ideas from Vivaldi as the starting point.”
 
Luigi (Girolamo?) Giusti’s text is set at the time of the conquest of the Aztec nation (Mexico) by valiant Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés (known here as Fernando) and the downfall of its emperor Motezuma (Montezuma). Vivaldi’s choice of Motezuma as his subject was unsurprising since exotic stories set in distant lands were all the rage in early eighteenth century Europe. The libretto includes the inevitable fictitious love story between Motezuma’s daughter Teutile and Cortés’s (Fernando) brother Ramiro. Later in 1755, Frederick the Great of Prussia himself wrote a fiercely anti-Catholic libretto for Carl Heinrich Graun’s ‘Montezuma’. Another ‘Montezuma’ libretto, written a decade later by Vittorio Amedeo Cigna-Santi, was set to music by no fewer than seven composers through 1781.
 
Vivaldi’s Motezuma had its first performance on 14 November 1733 at the Teatro di Sant’Angelo, perhaps directed by Vivaldi from the violin. The Teatro di Sant’Angelo was one of Venice’s smaller opera houses and could rarely afford to engage expensive famous singers. Although Vivaldi appears normally to have preferred to use alto castratos throughout his opera career, Motezuma featured two young soprano castrati. In this recording the only male voice is that of Motezuma (Vito Priante). Women sang the roles of Mitrena, wife of Motezuma (Marijana Mijanovic), Hernán Cortés, here called Fernando (Maite Beaumont), his general Asprano (Inga Kalna) and Ramiro, the younger brother of Fernando (Romina Basso) as well as Teutile, Motezuma’s daughter (Roberta Invernizzi). Vivaldi elected not to employ a chorus in the score of Motezuma and another break from opera tradition is his decision not to compose a ‘love scene’. The score to Motezuma has an unusually large proportion of entirely new music, the inclusion of two soprano castrato roles and at least four accompanied recitatives shows his determination to keep abreast of the Neapolitan style of Vinci and Hasse. These ingredients suggest that Vivaldi was striving to evoke strong dramatic conflict and to create sharply etched characterisations in his powerful New World opera.
 
Motezuma, who has only three main solo arias, is excellently performed by Vito Priante, the Italian baritone. In the arias Gl’oltraggi della sorte’ and ‘Se prescritta in questo giorno’ with rich and robust tones Vito Priante demonstrates his beguiling voice. The baritone makes a strong and characterful impression in one of opera’s finest arias, ‘Dov’e la figlia’ where the defeated emperor furiously laments his fate.
 
Vivaldi scholar Kees Vlaardingerbroek is of the opinion that, “Mitrena is without doubt one of the most impressive female characters in any Vivaldi opera.” Some Vivaldi scholars hold the view that Vivaldi created the role of Mitrena, the strong willed wife of Motezuma, specifically for Anna Giró, his protégée. Giró was a young soprano and former student of the Ospedale della Pietà and Vivaldi had initiated a close relationship with her. The contralto Marijana Mijanovic, born in the former Yugoslavia, appears miscast in the challenging role of Mitrena to which her voice is unsuited. None of the opera’s arias are more testing than the dizzying coloratura of Mitrena’s aria, S’ impugni la spada which was said to have been written especially for Giró. Featuring two hunting horns, the aria requires a voice with a wide range of agile coloratura and a phenomenal technique. Marijana Mijanovic struggles disappointingly at times in this difficult key aria which feels uncomfortably high for her contralto. In Mitrena’s arias ‘La sull’eterna sponda’, ‘La figla, lo sposo’ and ‘Nella stagion ardente’ Mijanovic displays a ravishing mid-range but her higher register when forced seems to lack the required flexibility for the part and comes across as rather unsteady and lacking in smoothness.
 
Teutile, the daughter of Motezuma and Mitrena is sung by Italian-born Roberta Invernizzi. Teutile’s arias ‘Barbaro, piu non sento’ and ‘L’agonie dell’alma afflitta’ seem eminently suited to Invernizzi’s smooth soprano voice. I found her high-quality singing expressive and impressively controlled with a subtle manner of enunciation. I especially admired Invernizzi’s bright and colourful singing as Teutile in her aria ‘Un guardo, oh dio’.
 
The impressive Spanish mezzo Maite Beaumont takes the part of Fernando (Hernán Cortés), the General of the Spanish armies. Beaumont displays strength and security in Fernando’s arias ‘Dalla sdegno che m’accende’ and ‘I cenni d’un sovrano’. I found Fernando’s aria ‘Sei troppo, troppo facile’ tidily performed, displaying significant personality. The lengthy aria ‘L’aquila generosa’, which features a rich orchestral accompaniment, is given a confident interpretation by Beaumont, aptly demonstrating her attractive timbre.
 
Ramiro, the younger brother of Fernando is performed by Romina Basso, the Italian mezzo. Basso displays her rich, warm and expressive voice in Ramiro’s aria ‘Quel rossor ch’in volto miri’ which is a graceful musical illustration of Ramiro’s rational and enlightened thinking. In Ramiro’s aria ‘Tace il labbro’ Basso’s attractive voice experiences some difficulties in her top range with the complicated writing. I found Basso engaging and warm voiced with her aria ‘In mezzo alla procella’ and in ‘Anche in mezzo dei contenti’ she displays a fluid control in an appealing interpretation.
 
One of the special successes of the opera’s casting is Inga Kalna, the Latvian soprano, as Asprano, the General of the Mexican army. Kalna’s coloratura is impressive in Asprano’s technically difficult aria ‘Brilleran per noi piu belle’, which is a good example of Vivaldi’s use of strong contrasts. ‘D’ira e furor armato’ is a bright aria with trumpet obbligato, considered one of the finest in the opera and it presents no difficulty for Kalna’s powerful and expansive voice. In Asprano’s aria ‘Nell’aspre sue vicende’ Kalna displays her potency in a colourful and appealing performance. The extended aria for Asprano ‘Dal timor, dallo spavento’ reveals the polish and purity of her soprano. The role of Asprano is a highly impressive achievement for this thrilling Latvian soprano, Inga Kalna who is destined for continued success.
 
One of the main highlights of this release is the terzetto (trio)‘A battaglia, a battaglia’ which is an unusually substantial, yet compact piece, that concentrates on the dramatic conflict of the text without any distracting orchestral flourishes. The trio of Vito Priante as Motezuma, Maite Beaumont as Fernando and Marijana Mijanovic as Mitrena provide an admirable performance that is dramatic and swiftly paced.
 
The recording engineers are to be congratulated for providing an excellent sound quality and the comprehensive annotation is out of the top-drawer. Vivaldi lovers will not want to be without this beautifully performed and recorded opera.
 
Michael Cookson

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