Diving into Vivaldi's Orlando furioso with Jean-Christophe Spinosi, Matheus Ensemble, and a shockingly good cast is enough to make even the most jaded listener smile. It is fresh, unrelentingly impressive, and entertaining to a fault. The opera is over-plotted: the first paragraph of the synopsis is enough to confuse anyone not taking notes. And listening to the entire thing would amount to more flowery, athletic vocalism than most can stand in one sitting. But those with the remotest interest in Vivaldi opera, or opera at all, will be hard pressed not to marvel at the quality of what's recorded here. Spinosi is a brilliant Vivaldian who pulls sweet-toned lyricism and down-and-dirty sawing from his Matheus Ensemble, making the most of the composer's rich orchestration. And the cast pulls one rabbit after another out of its collective hat, tackling Vivaldi's consummately difficult arias with élan.
This is something of an informal recording made at the oldest standing enclosed theatre in the world (Teatro Olimpico). It sounds like a chamber opera (if such a term exists). Pleasant singing, quaint, not overplayed. One of four modern versions of a relatively popular Vivaldi opera (his first), released on various labels (Bongiovanni, Chandos, Brilliant, Naive). This Brilliant version actually stands out for its instrumental tempo, which is fair compared to the (somewhat hyperactive) Naive and Chandos versions; I'd say it's reminiscent of a well played Four Seasons, moving along steadily. The acoustics are also more balanced here, all of the instruments shine through with the vocals…Amazon.com
This recording is noteworthy since back in 1978 it had become a precursor to the great Vivaldi Opera revival, including the phenomenal production of the same "Orlando Furioso" by San Francisco opera again with Marilyn Horn roughly 10 years later.
Due to this recording under the baton of Claudio Scimone being a pioneer, stepping on the rediscovered terra incognita of Vivaldi opera, the musical director had to resolve many problems, such as dramatic "reduction" of the text, which originally would accommodate for 5-6 hours of on-stage action; available voices and ornamentation of da capo arias, improvisation of cadenzas, and realization of appoggiaturas.
Among his many famous and beloved concertos, Vivaldi wrote no fewer than twenty-seven for the cello an instrument that at the time was generally consigned to playing basso continuo. With the genuine virtuosi he had available to him at the Ospedale della Pietà, the Prete Rosso played a key role in the emancipation of the cello. On this new CD of Vivaldi concertos, acclaimed cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras is supported by the musicians of the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin in a fascinating program that is further enhanced by a selection of highly expressive Sinfonias by Antonio Caldara.
Most of Vivaldi's operas were composed for Venice, but between 1718 and 1720, he was in the employ the Austrian governor of Mantua, and he composed Tito Manlio for the governor's wedding celebration. The wedding never took place, but the opera was performed in 1719. The Mantuan court was very wealthy, and this is clear from the lavish scoring of Manlio: in addition to the usual strings, Vivaldi uses horns, trumpets, oboes, bassoon, two different registers of flutes, timpani and viola d'amore. The plot is concerned with Tito, the leader of the Romans, and his battles with the Latins, led by Gemino, whose sister, Servilia, was engaged to Manlio, Tito's son. Gemino was engaged to Tito's daughter, Vitellia. Manlio goes on a reconnaissance mission to the Latins and kills Gemino despite his father's instructions not to do so; Tito therefore sentences Manlio to death. Interwoven loves and angers make for emotion-laden arias, many with superb obbligato instruments. Bass Nicola Ulivieri is a powerful Tito, and soprano Karina Gauvin sings with great heart as his son, Manlio, while mezzo Maijana Mijanovic's Vitellia offers a full-range of feelings and superb singing, both plaintive and vengeful. The rest of the cast is fine, and Ottavio Dantone leads a crisp, dramatic performance. There are acres of good music here. Highly recommended, and a feast for Vivaldi fans. –Robert Levine