Antonio VIVALDI (1678 - 1741)
Argippo (1730) [121.21]
Argippo - Veronika Mrackova Fucikova (mezzo); Zanaida - Pavla Stepnickova (mezzo); Osira - Jana Binova-Koucka (soprano); Silvero - Barbora Sojkova (soprano); Tisifaro - Kzenek Kapl (baritone)
Baroque Ensemble: Hofmusici (on period instruments)/Ondrej Macek
rec. Teatro Goldono, Venice, 23 October 2008
DYNAMIC CSD 6261-2 [74.23 + 46.58]

For most people, Vivaldi completely associated with Venice, but during his lifetime his music was premiered in a variety of places. Six of his operas were performed in Prague at the Sporck Theatre. Of these, two were only ever performed in Prague, Argippo and Alvilda, regina de Goti, and this disc is a recording by Czech forces of the former. The libretto, by Domenico Lalli, had already been set by a variety of composers before Vivaldi used it for Prague in 1730. Unfortunately the score was lost and only the libretto survived. Then in 2006 Czech harpsichordist Ondrej Macek discovered around half the arias of the opera in the library of the counts of Thurn und Taxis.

Macek has reconstructed the opera, supplying the missing arias from the composer’s other operas of the period. The CD booklet for this new recording is unclear as to whether it was Vivaldi or Macek who wrote the recitatives, but implies that it was the latter. The recording was made live at the Teatro Goldoni in Venice where Macek conducted a group of Czech soloists.

The CD booklet is rather vague about which bits of the opera are original and which are restored by Macek. This means that any critical reaction to the opera’s musico-dramatic structure must be muted as it is unclear whether we are criticising Vivaldi, or criticising Macek’s powers of selection. Macek also added an overture and introductory sinfonias to the other two acts, all taken from other Vivaldi works.

That said it, must be admitted that I have so far found Vivaldi rather lacking as a musical dramatist. His arias are generally beautifully put together and can often be stunners. But they frequently seem to rather skim the surface, albeit in a rhythmically euphoric manner. I have yet to find a Vivaldi opera which plumbs the depths in the way that Handel does, but I live in hopes.

By baroque standards the opera is rather short, it lasts just two hours with only eighteen arias. The plot concerns disputes within the family of Tisifaro (Zdenek Zapl) the Grand Mogor, who is ruler of a part of the East Indies. His only daughter Zanaida (Pavla Stepnickova) is loved by two princes, Silvero (Barvora Sojkova) and Argippo (Veronika Mrackova Fucikova).

Whilst Argippo is away Silvero tricks Zanaida into thinking he is Argippo and she yields to his desires. Argippo falls in love with Osira (Jana Binova-Koucka) and marries her. When he returns to the court of the Grand Mogor with his new wife, Zanaida becomes convinces that Argippo is faithless. Silvero’s deceit is discovered, Osira’s life is placed in danger and Silvero saves her.

The plot isn’t the strongest, even by baroque standards but the cast give it their best. All the roles are high voices except for Tisifaro, with a mixture of sex-allocations so that the male Silvero is a soprano and the female Zanaida is a mezzo-soprano which can make for confusing listening unless you are following the libretto. Neither of the two singers in the male roles, Mrackova Fucikova and Sojkova, sounds particularly masculine.

Vivaldi’s arias are all engaging, many with completely ravishing orchestration. It is here that Vivaldi often differs from Handel; Vivaldi’s orchestrations are frequently more diverse, more luxuriant than Handel offers; on this disc we have many felicities.

Vivaldi’s vocal lines are frequently bravura and often evoke his instrumental writing. The cast here all cope creditably, though none are perfect. Passagework is often smudged, both Fucikova and Stepnickova have a rather covered manner of delivery. Binova-Koucka inclines to be over-emphatic and can be too careful with her runs. The tessitura of Tisifaro’s act I aria obviously taxes Kapl but he copes with bravura.

None of these faults is dire and the performance is highly listenable. It was, after all, recorded live. And the opera presents a wonderful sequence of infectiously toe-tapping numbers. It is only really in the third act that we get slower, more deeply felt numbers.

The small Czech period instrument group, Hofmusici Baroque Ensemble accompanies in a lively manner. They relish Vivaldi’s imaginative orchestrations, though there are lapses in ensemble.

The CD booklet includes the libretto in Italian and the English translation is available for download on the Dynamic web-site. Though the CD booklet does provide some background, I would have liked far more information about the source of the extra material. Only the sinfonias are credited with their origins.

If you are looking for a Vivaldi opera, then this is not really a library choice. There are plenty of finer performances out there. But if you are interested in Vivaldi’s Czech connections then Macek and his forces give a lively and personable, if imperfect, account of one of Vivaldi’s Czech operas.

Robert Hugill