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Antonio Vivaldi,  Motezuma:  Soloists, Orchestra Il Complesso Barocco, Conductor Alan Curtis, Teatro Arriaga de Bilbao. 19.10.2007 (JMI)

Production from Teatro Sao Carlos Lisbon.


Director: Stefano Vizioli
Sets: Lorenzo Cutúli
Costumes: Anna Maria Heinreich
Lighting: Nevio Cavina


Motezuma: Vito Priante
Mitrena: Mary-Ellen Nesi
Teutile: Laura Cherici
Fernando: Franziska Gottwald
Ramiro: Theodora Baka
Asprano: Gemma Bertagnolli



The second title of this season at the Teatro Arriaga, within the program called Bilbao Estación Barroca, offered an authentic rarity with this opera by Vivaldi, almost miraculously restored to modern audiences and now on a European tour.

Antonio Vivaldi was 55 years old when his opera Motezuma premiered at the Sant’Angelo Theatre in Venice, although there were very few performances subsequently. The libretto by Alvise Giusti was readily available and accessible, but the score was misplaced and thought to be lost forever until it was found in 2003 in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine.

Emphasising the similarities between Tenochtitlán and
Venice, two cities surrounded by canals, the opera tells the story of the clash between the last Aztec Emperor Moctezuma and the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés, referred to as Fernando in the play.

The authors, following the conventions of serious Baroque opera, and deftly avoiding actual historical facts, do not hesitate to give Motezuma a lieto fine, a happy ending, to leave the audience feeling satisfied.

Motezuma is interesting, particularly in the second half and although I prefer other Vivaldi works like Farnace or La Griselda this was an unusual opportunity to attend a performance of an unknown opera by this important composer.

The American conductor Alan Curtis,  one of the most recognized experts in the baroque repertoire, was charged with the responsibility to go ahead with this rediscovered score in Lisbon during last spring. This autumn, Curtis's work with Motezuma is completed by a European tour, with performances in Paris and Vienna, as well as in Seville after this one-off staging in Bilbao.

Alan Curtis and his Il Complesso Barocco returned to Bilbao after their visit two years ago, when they presented Handel's Rodelinda and Lotario, both in concert versions. Mr Curtis's expertise in baroque opera is beyond question but there is some discussion about whether or not he stands as the reference interpreter of this music, as he is often presented in Spain. There are many great interpreters of baroque opera these days, whose performances achieve real excellence and if one has had the opportunity to see Minkowski, Christie, Bolton or Spinosi conducting this repertoire then it is clear that all of them bring something different to baroque opera. Coming back to Vivaldi however, what Spinosi achieved in
La Griselda was far more exciting than what Mr. Curtis had been able to deliver and on this occasion too  with Motezuma, Mr. Curtis left the same impression, at least to my mind. Mr Curtis is a serious and effective conductor, meticulous and always rigorous, but lacking some of the fire and inspiration of the colleagues mentioned already. Il Complesso Barocco too is a clearly an outstanding orchestra about whom one cannot complaint at all, but somehow I feel that they are not quite at the top of the league.

Stefano Vizioli’s production had its premiere in Lisbon and it is a co-production with Italian theatres in the Emilia Romagna region. The production fulfills the indispensable conditions for an opera on tour:  it offers a very simple stage set with black curtains at both sides and unique scenery in the centre, which forms a battlefield with crossed footbridges. This serves to symbolize the “calzadas” (a two lane carriageway) of ancient Mexico and lifts at the end of the opera to become a large cross, symbol of Mexican oppression by Spanish conquerors. In the front part of the stage there is a runway around the orchestra pit. Costumes are uniformly black with grey armor for the Spaniards and more colourful for Aztecs. The lighting is outstanding and Mr. Vizioli’s direction is excellent, with a fine sense of movement on stage, around the runway and even in the stalls. The libretto presents a confrontation between two worlds,  or between  of good and evil, in which the Aztecs are the good and the conquistadors evil. Mr Vizioli emphasizes this fundamental aspect of the plot at every opportunity and his simple approach is extremely

When writing of the vocal casting, one has to refer to what was offered in Lisbon and will be offered in Paris and Vienna. As Conquerors singers like Maite Beaumont, Max Emmanuel Cencic, Ann Hallenberg, Sonia Prina and Anna Bonitatibus were present, while among Aztecs there were such starry artists like Karina Gauvin, Laura Aikin, Marijana Mijanovic and Inga Kalna. There was a considerable difference in singing quality in Bilbao, as if we had a second cast.

Motezuma was the Italian baritone Vito Priante, who is been present in all the above mentioned performances. He is a good interpreter with a pleasant voice who is becoming a specialist in this repertoire and he outshone the rest of the cast apart from Gemma Bertagnolli as Asprano.  Asprano has two important and very difficult scenes in which Ms  Bertagnolli was most convincing. In her case I didn’t miss Inga Kalna nor Laura Aikin at all.

Sadly, other cast members weren't so special. Canadian mezzo Mary-Ellen Nesi as, Motezuma’s wife Mitrane approached the role with the best of intentions  but her singing sparked little interest.  Laura Cherici – a  light soprano played Teutile, daughter of Motezuma, as she had already done i in Lisbon. Teutile is one of the most important characters in the opera, especially in vocal terms and while  MsCherici sang everyting perfectly correctly, there was some acidity in her upper register and I did miss Karina Gauvin.

In the opera's two 'trouser roles', Fernando (the conquistador Hernán Cortés) was sung by the German mezzo Franziska Gottwald who proved to be a self-assured interpreter let down by some poor singing. The  Greek mezzo Theodora Baka sang Ramiro (brother of Cortés and in love with Teutile) and came across as too immature as yet for such an important role.

There were many empty seats for this special occasion, the only performance in Bilbao and while the audience warmly applauded all the singers, there was no great enthusiasm for this operatic rarity.

José  M. Irurzun


Pictures © Teatro Arriaga

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