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Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Catone in Utica: Dramma per musica, RV705(1737) [2:40:40]
Topi Lehtipuu  (tenor) - Catone
Roberta Mameli (soprano) - Cesare
Ann Hallenberg  (mezzo) - Emilia
Sonia Prina  (alto) - Marzia
Romina Basso  (mezzo) - Fulvio
Emoke Baráth (soprano) - Arbace
Il Complesso Barocco/Alan Curtis
rec. Longino, Italy, September 2012. DDD.
140-page booklet with texts and translations
NAÏVE OP30545 [3 CDs: 69:25 + 60:11 + 31:23]

I had already drafted a brief welcome for this recording for my Download News 2013/13 when I received Geoffrey Molyneux’s more comprehensive review (below).
 
Naïve’s Vivaldi project is proceeding apace - this is the 50th release and the 15th opera in the series; it’s also, slightly confusingly, number 55 in their Tesori del Piemonte series. Catone in Utica has been recorded before, by Jean Claude Malgoire for Dynamic (CDS403, 2 CDs), but there are significant differences. The music of Act I is lost, though the libretto survives, so some patching is necessary. The solution for Dynamic was to create a pastiche from other Vivaldi operas - a justifiable decision, since baroque composers such as Handel did precisely that with their own works. For Naïve Alessandro Ciccolini has borrowed occasionally from other Vivaldi works - the overture from l’Olimpiade, RV725, for example - but he and Alan Curtis have mainly composed new music in the style of Vivaldi.
 
After a couple of runs-through I’ve enjoyed listening to this new recording; I doubt if any but the most erudite musicologist would spot the difference between Vivaldi and Ciccolini in Vivaldi mode and there’s some fine music in this little-known opera. Excellent performances, too - almost a given with Alan Curtis at the helm of Il Complesso Barocco, now moving from Virgin, for whom he has recently recorded a very fine Handel Giove in Argo (72311622, 3 CDs), to Naïve - with no weaknesses among the singers. For a fair sample, try if you can, perhaps from the invaluable Naxos Music Library, CD2, track 4, Cesare’s aria se mai senti spirarti. Comparison with Roberta Invernizzi who includes this aria on a CD of Vivaldi arias (Glossa GCD922901) yields a very honourable draw. If anything I preferred Alan Curtis’s slightly faster tempo than that on Glossa.
 
The booklet is luxurious and the recording quality excellent.
 
Brian Wilson 

Geoffrey Molyneux has also listened to this recording:
 
This is a fascinating release, not least because of the reconstruction of the missing Act 1 by Alessandro Ciccolini who has used some of Vivaldi’s instrumental music as the basis of his work. Five arias in Act 1 were composed from scratch and so was all the recitative. One could argue that the opera makes good sense without Act 1, and in any case there is no certainty that Vivaldi was the composer in the first place. However, when I heard this performance I was bowled over by the experience and in terms of style, I found it impossible to distinguish between the reconstructed music and Vivaldi’s original.
 
The opening sinfonia comes from L’Olimpiade and things set off at a cracking pace, full of vitality and energy. The tone is set for a fine performance all round. For me the most outstanding of the singers is Roberta Mameli who takes the role of Cesare. Her aria in Act 1 Vaga sei ne sdegni tuoi is sung with great virtuosity. The fast notes are thrillingly executed, with absolute clarity without a single blemish in intonation. Amazing stuff. The ornamentation and cadenzas were also composed by Ciccolini, but on my first hearing I felt that the music, although brilliantly executed, did not have much sense of spontaneity and sounded a bit contrived. However, on the second time around this did not bother me at all.
 
With performances as good as this, there is so much spectacular virtuosity to enjoy, it really doesn’t matter if the music does not always sound ‘authentic’. After all, Vivaldi’s singers would always have varied the da capos of the arias at every performance, obviously something which cannot be achieved on a recording like this. Mameli is not just a virtuoso performer. She sings very movingly in Act II when she describes Cesare’s feelings of anguish when he is away from Marzia (E lontano da te peno e sospiro and Se mai senti spirarti), and there is some especially sensitive string accompaniment here.
 
Topi Lehtipuu sounds suitably light-toned in his first aria, Con si bel nome in fronte in the tenor role of Catone. However his performance of Dovea svenarti allora in Act II is a very different matter. Now he is in a rage as he castigates his daughter and wishes her death on admitting she loves his enemy Cesare. With very strong characterisation here, he is magnificently aided and abetted by the orchestra.
 
Marzia’s aria E follia se nasciondete, sung by contralto Sonia Prina is very well done. Her tone is round and full but light enough to scurry through her speedy semiquavers, always with a light touch. She delights with her virtuosity in this aria.
 
Another outstanding singer here is Ann Hallenberg in the role of Emilia. She has a warm and rich tone, but when occasion demands she becomes suitably evil. Listen to the final aria of Act II. There is some splendid virtuosity displayed here in the cadenzas and in the ornamentation as Emilia vows to avenge her murdered husband, Pompeo. Another truly magnificent performance from Hallenberg is of the aria Nella foresta leone invitto in Act III. There is wonderful orchestral playing here, full of vitality and drive with great attack from the horns.
 
Emőke Baràth as Arbace shapes the phrases musically in her Act 2 aria S’andra senza pastore, and her flowing semiquavers are very expressive with good dynamic contrast. She has a very beautiful tone, impressively strong in the lower register.
 
Il Complesso Barocco is always well-balanced with excellent ensemble and fine string tone. The music is sensitively and thoughtfully phrased, and the players easily set the mood at the beginning of each aria before the soloist enters. The ensemble plays with rhythmic vitality when required, and I enjoyed the vivacious entry of the brass instruments as they join strings and continuo when Cesare announces his challenge to Catone on the battlefield in Act II (Se in campo armato). In this aria we hear another example of Mameli’s virtuosity, in a cadenza as well as in the ornamentation. Marzia’s first aria in Act III has a superbly invigorating orchestral introduction and accompaniment, and the piece provides another opportunity for Sonia Prina to demonstrate her skills.
 
Alan Curtis conducts so well and this music is clearly in his blood. The tempo of every aria is judiciously chosen and this helps to ensure that the attention never wanders.
 
This is a truly outstanding recording of one of Vivaldi’s finest works. The programme booklet is admirable and provides everything you need.
 
Geoffrey Molyneux  


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