Soprano Simone Kermes sings a variety of repertoire from the Baroque to the Romantic, but it's in the Baroque where she has made the strongest impact, and she shines in this album of Vivaldi opera arias and solo cantatas. The recordings are culled from two earlier Deutsche Grammophon Archiv releases, Amor Profano and Amor Sacro, so fans of the singer who already own those albums would not be getting new material with this one. For other listeners, though, it's an attractive selection that showcases Kermes' versatility, as well as Vivaldi's.
Farnace was apparently one of Vivaldi's favorite operas, because he mounted numerous productions in various cities, and wrote six versions of the score, more than of any of his other operas. The conventions of operatic vocal characterizations that came to be standard – higher voices in the sympathetic roles, and lower voices in villainous roles – had not yet been established, and Farnace features a baritone and contralto in the heroic roles, with a soprano as the villain. Soprano Adriana Fernández shines as the wicked Berenice, who is redeemed at the very last minute. She has a full, creamy voice that she deploys appealing agility and warmth. As Tamira, contralto Sara Mingardo sings with power, authority, and deep feeling. In the title role, baritone Furio Zanasi is appropriately heroic, with a rich, refined timbre and the expressive depth to create sympathy for the conflicted protagonist, but he doesn't always have the necessary strength at the bottom of his range. One of his arias, the lyrical and poignant "Gelido in ogni vena," is among the composer's loveliest creations.
It is extremely difficult nowadays to reproduce the sound castrato singers where capable of doing at their time and, too often, one finds voices that are too nasal or merely good falsettos. But in many of the performances in this CD one can let the imagination wander and almost imagine you are in the 18th century. In particular, the performance of James Bowmann is outstanding. Also very special the performace of Charpentier 'Salve Regina' by Gerard Lesne and the others; this of course enhanced by the exquisite sensibility of the director Jordi Saval. Also, the duo of Derek Lee Ragin and Ewa Mallas-Godlewska in 'Son qual nave ch'agitata' is so exquisite it brings tears to your eyes. (Carmen E. Alvarez)
There are three absolutely amazing performances on this set, and not because the voices are more or less beautiful than usual: those of Victoria de los Angeles, Marilyn Horne, and Sesto Bruscantini. The first-named sings here with dramatic expression, cleanly executed coloratura runs, and trills, none of which she was known for through most of her career. By dramatic expression I do not mean the generalized drama of her Butterfly, but word-painting and attention to text, of getting inside the character. Her coloratura runs here are far more cleanly executed than on her famous recording of Il Barbiere di Siviglia. As for trills, yes, she attempted a couple of imperfect ones on her recordings, but none in her Jewel Song from Faust, neither the mono recording from 1952 nor the stereo remake of 1957, neither in Nedda’s 1953 “Ballatella” nor in Antonia’s music in the 1965 Contes d’Hoffman. But here, suddenly, Victoria is loaded with trills—she even sings an ascending scale of them in her first-act aria—and they are cleanly defined trills, not that half-hearted little shake that she made pass for a trill in her earlier days.
It is now generally accepted that Vivaldi wrote ten cello sonatas – one of them now lost. Six (RV 47, 41, 43, 45, 40 and 46) of the surviving nine were published posthumously as a set, in Paris, by Charles-Nicolas Le Clerc around 1740. The other three survive in manuscript collections: RV 42 (along with RV 46) is preserved in the library at Wiesentheid Castle at Unterfranken in Germany; RV 39 and 44 (along with RV 47) are to be found in a manuscript in the Naples Conservatoire.
Geminiani’s opus 5 consists of six cello sonatas, and was first published in Paris in 1746. The twenty years either side of 1740 saw the cello rise to a very fashionable position in French musical society, largely at the expense of the bass-viol – a change of fashion which stirred such strong emotions that in 1740 Hubert Le Blanc published his fierce Defense de la basse de viole contre les entreprises du violon et les pretensions du violencel. Music such as that by Vivaldi and Geminiani which is played here by Roel Dieltiens and his colleagues must have made a powerful counter-case for the cello.
L'Oracolo in Messenia, an opera written by Vivaldi for Vienna in 1740, was reconstructed by Fabio Biondi in 2011 in a triumpan open to the famous Resonanzen festival in Vienna, appropriately enough. Originally, the opera was intended to be performed in Vienna during Carnival in 1741, but due to the death of the Austrian Emperor and ultimately, himself, his plans fell through. Vivaldi expert, Fabio Biondi, reconstructed the work using a recently discovered libretto in the Library of Congress, Viavaldi s personal scores as well as those from his contemporaries. Bajazet and Ercole sul Termodonte, two other Vivaldi operas recorded for Virgin classics, also follow the magnificent example Bondi set with L'Oracolo in Messenia. This world-premier recording of Vivaldi s last Viennese opera is led by Bondi himself on the violin and comprises a high-powered cast of soprano Julia Lezhneva; mezzo sopranos Ann Hallenberg,Vivica Genaux, Romina Basso and Franziska Gottwald; Counter tenor Xavier Sabata; and tenor Magnus Staveland. The performance was greeted with a standing ovation and it was said that The festival could not have launched its 20th anniversary in more triumphant fashion.
You may have noticed that two composers are named for this opera. As we know, opera librettos frequently were set to music by more than one composer in the 18th (and even 19th) century. Francesco Corselli was French by birth (Francois Courcelle was his real name) but worked in Parma and Madrid. His Farnace was written in 1736. Vivaldi composed his Farnace in 1727. For his performances of Vivaldi's version (in Madrid in October, 2001), the great string player and conductor Jordi Savall decided to do what was common practice back in Vivaldi's time–add some arias and other music from a contemporary work on the same subject–and for this he chose selections from Corselli's score. For the record, the bits of Corselli that Savall includes are a Sinfonia plus a recitative and aria for Berenice used as a prologue to Act 1, an aria for Farnace to begin Act 2, and a march preceding the action in Act 3–altogether a bit more than 20 minutes… –Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com
What can anyone add to the praise that has deservedly been heaped on Robert King and the King's Consort's 11 discs of the complete sacred music of Vivaldi? Can one add that every single performance is first class – wonderfully musical, deeply dedicated, and profoundly spiritual?