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Vivaldi Senna CVS064
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Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
La Senna Festeggiante RV693
L’Âge d’Or - Gwendoline Blondeel (soprano); La Vertu - Lucile Richardot (mezzo-soprano); La Seine - Luigi De Donato (bass); Chœur - Nicholas Scott (tenor)
Orchestre del’Opéra Royal/Diego Fasolis
rec. 7-14 February 2021, L’Opéra Royal de Versailles, France

In his notes for the 2002 Hyperion recording of this serenata, of which more below, Michael Talbot makes the point that we do not have any really convincing evidence for what occasioned the composition of this, perhaps Vivaldi’s best secular vocal piece. In arguing for the French connection, the essayist of the present issue, Olivier Fourés, makes a sufficient circumstantial link to Versailles for the work to be recorded in the Château de Versailles by this ensemble. Given how good it is, any excuse will do, and these musicians make a fine job of it. The four singers are widely experienced in period performance and the recently formed Orchestre del’Opéra Royal are very much in the top class. Director Diego Fasolis has decades of experience to draw on. All in all, this only had to be well recorded for a recommendation to be ensured. Well recorded it certainly is, though one might regret that the Royal Chapel’s spacious acoustic was not captured in surround sound.

La Senna Festeggiante (The Festive Seine) lasts around 80 minutes and conveniently fills one CD. The plot tells of two river nymphs, L’Âge d’Or and La Vertu, who, after complimenting each other, start lamenting to La Seine, the river itself personified, of the poor state of the world. Things can only improve when the banners of the French king are seen and all move towards the palace, presumably Versailles, to wish him a glorious reign. There is a lot of opportunity for Vivaldi to express a wide range of emotions, and the singers their virtuosity, in a long sequence of arias, recitatives and choruses. These last are sung by the three soloists, soprano, mezzo and bass, as a group, with the addition of a single tenor, there is no separate chorus. Not one of the numbers is less than the finest Vivaldi. Some is of course borrowed from elsewhere in his oeuvre and since the work has a handful of lost pages a small amount of text and music has had to be edited in.

The Hyperion discs already in my collection, made two decades ago by the Kings Consort, contained a slightly longer performance (85 minutes) and thus La Senna Festeggiante spilled over onto a second disc – filled by a substantial extra work. This pairing is still available but only as a download where the length of performance does not matter. Comparisons, though odious, are inevitable. I have to say that, vital though the new performance is - and I enjoyed every moment - the older Hyperion has more sheer élan, more subtle vocal and instrumental embellishments, and is even better for its solo singing. I was particularly taken by the delicious voice of Carolyn Sampson, who sounds more comfortable than Gwendoline Blondeel on this new disc. The Hyperion recording too is slightly better balanced, more distant and thus more spacious. Those attracted by this series of recordings from Château de Versailles Spectacles should not hesitate to add this CD to their collections because the quality of performances and productions in the issues so far has been very impressive. This one is no exception, and I am certainly pleased to have heard it.  The notes are scholarly, wide-ranging and very interesting, doing much to enhance the value of the CD.

A note about the parallel translation of the text: I noticed a small error in the final aria for L’Âge d’Or where a paragraph of the English and Italian have swapped columns. Such things must be a nightmare to copy-edit and mistakes are fortunately very rare.

Dave Billinge

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