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Antonio VIVALDI (1678 - 1741)
Motezuma (Montezuma) (1733) [153:00]
Motezuma - Vito Priante
Mitrena - Mary-Ellen Nesi
Teutile - Laura Cherici
Fernando Cortés - Franziska Gottwald
Ramiro - Theodora Baka
Asprano - Gemma Bertagnolli
Il Complesso Barocco/Alan Curtis
Director: Stefano Vizioli
Teatro Comunale di Ferrara, 2008
Region Code: 0; Sound format: 16:9; Picture format: LPCM 2.0
Booklet notes: Ita, Eng, Fre, Ger
Subtitles: Fre, Eng, Ger, Spa, Ita
World premiere recording
DYNAMIC 33586 [75:14 + 74:46]

Experience Classicsonline

Surviving as a fragment, Vivaldi’s 1733 opera Motezuma - known as Montezuma prior to the recovery in 2002 of the surviving manuscript - requires modern intervention for execution. This new recording is based on the Bärenreiter edition prepared by the conductor Alan Curtis and includes Alessandro Ciccolini’s reconstruction of the missing material. Already available in another performance conducted by Curtis and also a recording by Malgoire, the new DVD benefits from a fine cast and an effective staging, which have much to recommend. As a Baroque opera, the subject-matter alone shifts from the tales of antiquity that usually find expression in librettos involving the gods of the Greeks and Romans to present instead the more recent and immediate tragedy of Cortez’s conquest of Montezuma’s empire in the New World. It adopts a sympathetic stance in defense of the indigenous people, not the European explorers. In conveying this sense of tragic loss, Vivaldi’s libretto focuses on Montezuma, his consort and their daughter as they face the machinations of the Spanish general Fernando, his brother Ramiro, and Asprano, the governor of what would become Mexico.
Within the timely nature of the story, the numbers as Vivaldi conceived them put a familiar and accessible face on the native characters. Mitrena, sung by Mary-Ellen Nesi, is a powerful character, as wife of Motezuma and mother of Teutile. Her aria “La figlia, lo sposo” is persuasive, and demonstrates Nesi’s finesse in the role. Her sense of line renders the figuration and ornaments with exemplary clarity, along with the tone colors she uses to bring out the sense of this number and the others in this opera. Franziska Gottwald is similarly adept at the style, with a stunning presentation of Fernando Cortez. The aria “L’aquila generosa” stands out for the virtuosity she exhibits in that number, a tour de force that demonstrates the strength of this score.
As persuasive as Vito Priante is at the opening of the opera in the number “Son vinto, eterni dei!”, the piece in which Motezuma fears the gods of his nation have abandoned them to the Spaniards, his aria “Dov’e la figlia,” near the conclusion of the opera, demonstrates an intensity at the loss of his daughter Teutile and the despair his character perceives at the loss of his kingdom and family. The emotional pitch of latter number is powerful, with his impassioned presence translating well into this film. In fact the effect on the audience can be seen at the conclusion of the aria, when he moves to the end of the stage and a patron in the nearby box moves away at his approach. His lyrical bass is effective in bringing out the florid passages cleary and expressively.
As Teutile, Laura Cherici merits attention. Her reaction to the conquest of Mexico is expressed well in the early part of the opera in the aria “Barbaro, piu non sent”, a piece that demonstrates her vocal facility well. Later, as a captive, Teutile, who loves the Spaniard Ramiro (here played by Theodora Baka), is ready to sacrifice herself, and her conflicted emotions are expressed well in the aria “L’agonie dell alma affitta,” a piece that is builds in intensity through the slow tempo that allows the details of the vocal line to unfold like a good narrative. Cherici’s approach to the vocal line has the precision of a keyboard instrument, yet she bends the pitches as necessary and allows the rhythmic steadiness of the number to suspend in ornamentation she brings to cadences.
The orchestra, Curtis’s Il Complesso Barocco offers a solid accompaniment, with a sound that supports the voices well, with a cohesive string sound that emerges well from the pit used in this production. The overture, a rare chance to hear the orchestra by itself, is properly extroverted in setting the tone for the drama. In other, similar exposed passages, Il Complesso Barocco responded well to Curtis’s direction.
A modern discovery Motezuma is already known through Curtis’s early CD recording of the opera as well as Malgoire’s release. Yet this DVD allows audiences to apprehend the work on stage, as it was intended, and the production serves the opera well. The stage design is minimal in suggesting the period and various locations in Mexico, and its sparseness allows the performers to make full use of the stage in working with each other and projecting nicely the audience present for the recording. The film itself makes use of close-ups and other perspectives that bring the viewer to the stage in ways that would be physically impossible from the audience.
In this sense the DVD serves the opera well in giving it a sense of theater that does not always emerge from audio recordings alone.
In a compelling performance like this one, though, it is useful to know more about the origins of the work, and while the essay by Mariateresa Dellaborra is useful, the information is general. The plot summary is keyed to the presentation of the work on two discs, and so has the artificial division of the opera into two parts, and the description of the action in the text lacks references to any specific numbers. This could be easily remedied by the inclusion of such details or the publication of the libretto used for this production. With the latter, it would be useful to include with the production the details about the opera found in the booklet with the Deutsche Grammophon CD of Motezuma, to explain the derivation of the score from existing music by Vivaldi. While the reworkings of Händel are a matter known to scholarship on that composer, the situation is different with Motezuma, which required the repurposing of existing music by Vivaldi to perform the piece. The pieces derived from existing numbers from Griselda and other operas are familiar enough to merit attention in the accompanying booklet or even as an “extra” on the second disc. Further, while information is available on the Internet and elsewhere, the second disc could benefit from a short “extra” on the historic Montezuma, so that viewers can understand how the facts of Cortez’s conquest found the shape the librettist gave them.
That stated, those interested in Baroque opera and, specifically, Vivaldi’s contributions to the genre, will find it useful to view this production of Motezuma by Stefano Vizioli. It is compelling visually and aesthetically satisfying, so that it is possible to gain a sense of the opera’s impact on stage, granted within a reconstructed score. More than that, the performance merits attention for the fine efforts of the musicians involved in bringing the extant music of Motezuma to the stage.
James L Zychowicz 








































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