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Vivaldi,  La Fida Ninfa : (The Faithful Nymph) – concert version, Miguel Delibes Cultural Centre, Valladolid, 26. 4. 2008 (JMI)

The present fashion for baroque opera has allowed many forgotten works to be dusted off and offered to today’s public all around Europe and further afield, normally in concert performances, as here. Musicians like William Christie, René Jacobs, Alan Curtis, and here, Jean Christophe Spinosi have made whole careers out of this. There are so many candidates from the entire oeuvre of Baroque opera, that while there seems to be continued public interest, there will be no shortage of new revivals.

For two or three years, Spinosi has had great success with Vivaldi’s La Griselda, so it looks as if he has decided to continue with the same composer’s output, since he has put himself to the trouble of bringing the Fida Ninfa to light, whose modern premiere was five years ago at the Ambronay festival.

In its original existence, this opera was the subject of a special marketing campaign by Vivaldi himself. Vivaldi secured a first performance in Verona in 1732 to mark the inauguration of the later much destroyed and rebuilt  Teatro Filarmonico. The Verona Academy, who commissioned the first performance, included in its number Marchese Scipione Maffei, who had written the libretto, and he was unsurprisingly the prime mover in engaging Vivaldi. (I should say that my opera programme confusingly and surely incorrectly attributed the libretto to Luigi Giusti, author of the libretto to Vivaldi’s Montezuma.)

Unfortunately, Maffei’s libretto is prolix, boring and frankly absurd, full of shepherds, nymphs, woods and mountains, but decidedly short on events. Moreover, the finale bears no relation to the preceding three hours, including the appearance of several classical gods for no better reason than Maffei’s own love of mythology.

But Vivaldi managed to produce music, at least, that has moments of the highest quality. The opera contains no less than 26 arias, three sinfonias and various vocal ensembles. It is still an uneven work, but one may single out a few highlights – Narete’s aria (he is the nymphs’ father), ‘Deh, ti piega,’ is a gem, as is Osmino’s countertenor ‘Qual serpe tortuosa,’ and the two arias of Morasto are very fine, ‘Destin avaro’ for its bravura and ‘Dite ohime,’ for the originality of its guitar accompaniment.

Spinosi has recently found Vivaldi fertile ground for the expression of his own personality and intensity, and this was certainly true of this production. At the same time, there was no loss of delicacy and there were moments of the greatest intimacy. He made an excellent case for this form of opera, and, incidentally, for how it points towards Mozart. The Ensemble Matheus was also able to show it is one of the best baroque outfits around at the moment.

The vocal cast for this production has hardly any weaknesses. The three female roles are especially demanding, with at least six arias each. The supposed protagonist, the faithful nymph herself, Licori, was sung by the French singer Anna Maria Panzanella; she was perhaps the weakest of the main singers, with moments both of harsh tone and imprecision. Licori’s sister, the other nymph Elpina, was sung by the Italian mezzo Barbara di Castri, who also took the role of Juno in the finale. She had a big voice, convincing, if of no outstanding tonal beauty. Sandrine Piau and Sara Mingardo take  these roles in some performances. For me, there was no doubt that the prize among the female singers went to the Argentinian Veronica Cangemi (Morasto). She sang with great sensitivity, beauty of tone and agility, and undoubtedly provided some of the best moments of the whole evening.

Jose Manuel Zapata was a fine and agile Narete, with excellent diction in the recitatives and plenty of taste in his set-piece aria, ‘Deh, ti piega.’ The expressivity and emotion of his singing came as a pleasant surprise to me; I could see him as Nemorino, or Arturo in I Puritani. Osmino, whose story in this opera is especially incomprehensible, long and boring, was sung by the French counter-tenor Philippe Jarousky, whose voice and quality are beyond criticism. I think of Jarousky as having one of the most beautiful voices in his field, and would like to see him in more demanding roles. It has been said that the original singer who played Osmino must have been the best-paid of the company, since he has relatively little to sing, but what he does sing includes two major arias. Lorenzo Regazzo was a great success as Oralto, the pirate, giving the role real life and interest. It was the best I have heard him sing, and suggested he might be very well suited to similar low baritone roles in this repertoire.

The auditorium had plenty of spaces, but this was still a much more substantial audience than there has been on many previous occasions. So it looks as if the public  is more warmly embracing the attractive programme that Vallodolid now offers.

There have been many occasions (especially in Madrid) where cuts of up to a third of the music have been made to the opera, sometimes shortly before the performance date, simply because of timetabling problems but on this occasion, even after three and a half hours, the audience not only clapped and cheered the whole cast, but also showed no signs of stirring. Finally, Spinosi, gave them a hint, turning to them and saying with a wink, the two words; ‘Da Capo!’ and indeed, why not…..

José M Irurzun

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