Leonardo VINCI (1690 - 1730)
La Partenope (La Rosmira fedele), dramma per musica in 3 acts
Maria Ercolano (Arsace), Maria Grazia Schiavo (Rosmira) (soprano), Eufemia Tufano (Emilio) (mezzo-soprano), Sonia Prina (contralto) (Partenope), Stefano Ferrari (Armindo) (tenor), Charles Do Santos (Ormonte) (baritone)
I Turchini di Antonio Florio/Antonio Florio
rec. live, 29 April-1 May 2011, Auditorium Victor Villegas, Murcia, Spain. DDD
DYNAMIC CDS 686/1-2 [52:43 + 72:41]
Opera-lovers will immediately think of Handel when they see the title of this disc. He also composed an opera on this same subject, performed in 1730. Five years earlier Handel had performed a pasticcio which included seven arias from Vinci's opera.
Let us first turn to Leonardo Vinci. It is assumed that he was born in 1696, but there is no firm evidence. In 1708 he entered the Conservatorio dei Poveri di Gesù Cristo in Naples. In 1719 he made his debut in the field of opera with a comedy which found great appreciation. In the next years he wrote several other comedies, all in the Neapolitan dialect. In 1722 his first opera seria was performed, which was again enthusiastically received. From that moment onwards he turned his attention to this genre. After the death of Alessandro Scarlatti in 1725 he became pro-vice-maestro at the royal court in Naples. For some time he acted as teacher at his old conservatory, where Pergolesi was one of his pupils. During the season 1729/30 he worked as impresario and principal composer at the Teatro delle Dame. There he collaborated with the librettist Metastasio in the composition of three works. He died in 1730.
The original libretto of the opera was written by Silvio Stampiglia and presented to the Spanish Vicereine of Naples; a synopsis can be found here. There is a close connection between Parthenope and Naples. During the Spanish domination of the city the Neapolitans called themselves partenopei, children of Parthenope. The latter was considered the founder of the city. There are two figures with that name in classical mythology. The first is one of the Sirens; she was washed ashore at the spot where Naples is situated. The second was a Greek princess, daughter of the King of Thessaly. With a group of people from her country she settled at the same spot and founded the city.
The first setting was from the pen of Luigi Mancia (1665?-after 1708) and was performed many times between 1699 and 1710. In 1711 Antonio Caldara set the libretto in an adapted version for a performance in Venice. In 1722 a new one was presented in Naples, this time by Domenico Natale Sarro (or Sarri) (1679-1744). It was revived in 1723, with added arias and some intermezzi. This version was again performed in Rome in 1724. At that time Vinci was also in Rome and the two composers collaborated. When Vinci became active as an opera composer in Venice he decided to stage La Partenope, but then under the title of La Rosmira fedele. The reasons for this change of title are not known. It has been suggested that it was a kind of homage to the famous mezzo-soprano Faustina Bordoni, who sang the role of Rosmira. Another reason could be that the name of Parhenope hadn’t the special meaning for Venetian opera lovers that it had for the Neapolitans.
For this setting Vinci kept parts of Sarro's score: he borrowed his recitatives, the chorus 'Viva Partenope' and the military sinfonias in Acts 1 and 3. He also reused music from previous compositions of his own, which in some cases forced him to change the text of an aria. In 2004 Antonio Florio conducted the first modern performance of La Rosmira fedele, and the present recording is a compilation of live performances in April and May 2011, with a partly different cast.
Live performance on disc has advantages and disadvantages. One of the former is the interaction between the protagonists which is not easy to realise in a studio recording. The stage noises add to the illusion of being present in the theatre. That can also be a disadvantage, though: you hear something but can't see anything, and therefore some of those noises make no sense. There are some battle scenes where you can only hear a clash of arms; as there is no visual dimension the effect lasts too long, especially as there is no music. Such a scene at the end of Act 3 is especially odd: you hear the clash but according to the libretto the actual fight between Arsace and Rosmira and their respective seconds never takes place. In a CD recording you can only guess what is going on. Another disadvantage is the annoying habit of opera audiences applauding arias or scenes. This only serves to halt the flow of the music. In this performance the battle scene from Act 1 is followed by applause, and only then does Arsace get the chance to force Emilio to surrender.
The acoustic is rather dry, as is to be expected from a live recording in a theatre. That is not so much of a problem in a DVD recording, but on a CD it does not always makes for pleasant listening. In January 2013 a DVD of this production will be released. If a review copy is made available to MWI one of my colleagues will be able to examine whether the sound is as problematic as it is on CD. The DVD should be interesting anyway because of the period staging.
The assessment of an operatic production concerns both acting and singing. On the basis of this CD it is virtually impossible to evaluate the acting. I have to confine myself largely to the musical aspect, and in that regard I am not that positive about this production. Especially from a stylistic point of view the performances are rather disappointing. One of the main problems is the incessant and sometimes very wide vibrato of the female soloists. That includes Sonia Prina, who sings the title role. For some reason I got used to it in her case, and that has something to do with the fact that she is an contralto. In my experience a wide vibrato is less obtrusive in low voices than in high. Moreover, in the interpretation of her role she is head and shoulders above the rest of the cast. She is a versatile singer and is able to lend the necessary heroism to her role. Her coloraturas are impressive, for instance in 'A far stragi, a far vendetta'. Maria Grazia Schiavo sings the role of Rosmira pretty well, but sometimes her technique fails her. In 'Tormentosa, crudel gelosia' her breathing technique isn't good enough to sing long coloraturas; she takes a breath at some curious moments, especially in the dacapo. In 'Spiegati e di che l'ami' the ornament at the start of the dacapo is highly exaggerated, which is all the more notable as in the performance as a whole the ornamentation is quite stylish.
Maria Ercolano's performance is technically and stylistically problematic. 'Amante che incostante' is one example of an aria where her wide vibrato is particularly unpleasant. Here the cadenza at the end of the dacapo is exaggerated and the high notes sound stressed. Eufemia Tufano fails to make a better impression: her voice is rather unstable and her vibrato in 'Men superba andrà la sorte' is unacceptable. In 2004 the role of Armindo was taken by Makoto Sakurada. I would prefer him to Stefano Ferrari whose voice lacks clarity. His upper register sounds a bit husky, as in 'Vanne e spera'. Charles do Santos has a small role; he has no arias; at least not in this production.
That brings me to another disadvantage of a live recording: more often than not live performances are incomplete. That is also the case here. According to the libretto - which can be downloaded from the Dynamic site (here) - complete scenes are omitted: from Act 1 scenes 11, 15 and 16, and from Act 2 scenes 5, 6 and 9. Moreover one aria from Act 2, scene 7 - the only aria of Ormonte - has been cut. A comparison with the original score reveals that six arias in total are missing. In the aria 'Men superba andrà la sorte' (Act 3) the dacapo has been cut. The omitted scenes are indicated in the libretto, but the missing aria is not. The libretto also causes some confusion, when in Act 3 a recitative ends with Ormonte speaking and is followed by an aria without an indication of the character. One expects here an aria by Ormonte, but in fact it is Armindo who is singing. The short recitative which introduces the aria has been cut and with it the name of the character. Cuts in live opera productions seem inevitable these days, and as performances of operas by relatively unknown composers such as Vinci are rare, we probably shouldn't complain. Even so, it is a bad habit. The same goes for a studio production.
A couple of other things need to be said. There are various asides in the opera which have to be sung softly - the other characters shouldn't hear them. Unfortunately that is often ignored; some asides are sung so loudly that the other characters would have to be deaf not to hear them. In some arias the protagonist addresses his words to various people. Obviously that is impossible to notice in a CD recording. Fortunately it is indicated in the libretto.
The plot of many baroque operas is quite complicated and this one is no exception. The synopsis in the booklet is useful. One can't help being surprised about the lack of logic, though. In scenes 2, 3 and 4 of Act 3 characters disappear and turn up again for inexplicable reasons, without any indication in the libretto.
I have been rather critical about this production. It is quite possible that I would have been more positive if it had been a DVD. That wouldn't have made the singing of some soloists any better, though. Even so, I have enjoyed this recording, mainly because of Vinci's music which I like. I wouldn't mind hearing more from him, preferably in a studio recording. While writing this review I saw another opera by Vinci being released, Artaserse, with Philippe Jaroussky in the title role. That should be good.
Opera-lovers will certainly want this recording, despite its shortcomings.
I thank Maurizio Frigeni for listing the cuts in this performance. His own review - in Italian - can be found here.
Johan van Veen
Opera-lovers will want this recording despite its shortcomings.
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