Vivaldi's operas are rarely recorded and even less often performed, but happily they are gradually gaining more exposure. The most familiar and most frequently recorded is his 1727 Orlando Furioso. The fact that it has been on the public's radar is due largely to an excellent 1977 recording starring Marilyn Horne and Victoria de los Angeles, which has been reissued on Erato. The opera has since been recorded twice, and a DVD of a 1989 San Francisco Opera production featuring Horne and Kathleen Kuhlmann has been released. The newer CDs are extraordinarily fine; in choosing between Naïve's 2005 version led by Jean-Christophe Spinosi and this CPO release conducted by Federico Maria Sardelli, the listener is in a win-win position. Both feature stellar soloists, who are also compelling actors, and beautiful orchestral playing.
Antonio Vivaldi composed Arsilda, Regina di Ponto for the Venetian theater of Sant'Angelo in the fall of 1716. While Vivaldi had, by its debut, been an important member of Venetian musical culture for over a decade as a violinist and composer, he had begun composing only three years earlier. Domenico Lalli, his librettist, who settled in Venice in 1710 after fleeing his native Naples upon being charged with embezzlement, was one of the most important librettists of the first decades of the eighteenth century.
The general wall of obscurity surrounding Vivaldi's operas seems to be lifting. Tito Manlio, a large work composed in 1719 for a royal wedding that was called off at the last minute, was recorded on LPs in the 1970s and in 2006 received two new recordings, released at nearly the same time. So much for the theory that opera on recordings is dying! The opera is a compelling one, with a convincing father-son drama: the ancient Roman consul Tito Manlio (or Titus Manlius) plans to have his son executed for disobedience, but the younger Manlio is saved by a flood of acclamation for his military deeds. The opera seria libretto was set by several other composers of the early eighteenth century. Its central role is the young Manlio, intended for a castrato and sung here by soprano Elisabeth Scholl. A complicated eight-character plot surrounds this basic conflict, but some editing could definitely make Tito Manlio into a stageable and enjoyable opera.
The mostly young singers are uniformly equal to Vivaldi's challenging vocal writing, and the Italian historical-instrument ensemble Modo Antiquo backs them up with smooth, straightforward playing that nicely integrates a startling variety of instrumental solos – viola d'amore, flute, oboe, and some great natural horns – into the flow of things. This is a live recording, made at the Opera Barga festival in Tuscany in 2003.(James Manheim)