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Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
L’Incoronazione di Dario (1717) – Dramma per music in three Acts to a libretto by Adriano Morselli
Dario – Carlo Allemano
Statira – Sara Mingardo
Argene – Delphine Galou
Niceno – Riccardo Novaro
Alinda – Roberta Mameli
Oronte – Lucia Cirillo
Arpago – Veronica Cangemi
Flora – Romina Tomasoni
Ombra di Ciro/Oracolo – Cullen Gandy
Orchestra Teatro Regio Torino/Ottavio Dantone
rec. April 2017, Teatro Regio Torino, Italy
Director: Leo Muscato
Film Directors: Matteo Ricchetti and Adriano Figari
NTSC All Regions. Dolby Digital 5.1
DYNAMIC 37794 DVD [160 mins]

The title of Vivaldi’s opera, written for the Venice carnival of 1717 and mounted at the Teatro Sant’Angelo, might put one in mind of an earlier Venetian opera, Monteverdi’s The Coronation of Poppea. In comparison with the intrigues of the latter, however, those of Vivaldi’s opera seem positively innocent: no great philosopher is sacrificed, and where Poppea’s ascent is driven solely by Nero’s adulterous lust, Dario’s eventual elevation to the Syrian throne is secured by the purer pursuit of Statira’s hand in marriage. An oracle by her dead father, Ciro (Cyrus) instructs that it is the successful suitor to Statira who will win that prize, which is the occasion for some unedifying aspirations on the part of Argene and Oronte. To that extent the drama bears rather more similarity with Monteverdi’s other surviving Venetian opera, The Return of Ulysses, where the suitors to Penelope make a nuisance of themselves in the Greek hero’s absence.

Structurally Vivaldi’s opera also tends to conform to older Venetian models, in that dialogue in the recitatives tends to proceed by way of sparkier repartee, interspersed amongst shorter ariosi or even single melodic strophes. By the time of composition this was already regarded as somewhat old-fashioned – indeed the libretto had originally been written back in the 1680s. In contrast, the formal gravitas of fully-fledged opera seria (with its fairly inflexible sequence of recitatives and expansive da capo arias on the exit of the given character, striking an almost Mannerist expression of mood) was being developed by librettists such as Apostolo Zeno and Pietro Metastasio, and taken up by all the prominent composers of opera, Handel foremost among them. But that fluid structure in stretches of this work makes for some comic exchanges – such as in the misunderstandings of the letter-writing scene at the opening of Act Two. It foreshadows the way in which composers would come back to this less rigid format, by experimenting with and eventually breaking out of that opera seria mould again, as listeners are most likely to have encountered in this specific context in relation to Handel’s Serse (1738) whose often comic situations call for a similar dramatic response.

The overall setting of Leo Muscato’s production of L’Incoronazione di Dario generally raises the tone and importance of its action. However, in placing it in the modern Middle East and, given the costumes and headdresses of the characters, one might think of the ever-shifting power rivalries and cabals among the princes of the Saudi Arabian regime. The oil pipes and barrels of the set, and fluorescent overalls of some of the characters, as though working on a drilling site, point specifically to one of those oil-rich states and draw attention to the assets that are really at stake in this power struggle. Some of the manoeuvres on stage become distracting during Act Three as Argene makes her final, desperate attempt to claim power for herself, as well as Dario’s affections, but the choreography certainly never becomes static, reflecting the constant shifts in fortune among the various characters.

At the centre of it all, Carlo Allemano grows into the part of Dario, perhaps meaning to sound like an improbable victor at first, as his first aria is marked by a wobble that hardly promises any heroism. But he comes to bear himself with more distinction and is rightly authoritative and magnanimous when his appearance with Statira clinches events and he puts an end to Argene’s schemes. Sara Mingardo’s Statira steals the show with her generally restrained performance, maintaining an alluring dignity, however she unleashes unexpected reserves of fury and passion in her brief Act Two arietta ‘Dalle furie tormentata’ when she is led to believe – erroneously as it later transpires – that Dario has been disloyal to her. Delphine Galou remains defiant and assertive to the end as the wily Argene when she tries to defy the shackles of imprisonment at the end of the drama. But she elicits some sympathy initially in her amorously mellow aria ‘D’un bel viso in un momento’.

The other two suitors for Statira and the throne, Arpago and Oronte, act as a good foil for each other with, respectively in these trouser roles, Veronica Cangemi forthright and determined, and Lucia Cirillo expressively assured but more composed. Roberta Mamelli borders on the steely and shrill as Alinda. She is in love with Oronte and so perhaps should exude a touch more pure-voiced innocence and vulnerability. Particularly, as she nearly finds herself the victim of Oronte’s callous disregard for all that stands in his way to the throne and tries to have her murdered. It is a pity that Riccardo Novaro is a little dry of voice as the courtier Niceno. He has a notable succession of ariosi in which he consoles his hopeless love for Statira by accompanying himself on a cello. Later he has a stealthy aria whose accompaniment features a solo bassoon in material that shares a thematic germ with the Bassoon Concerto RV499, and so more musically committed performances would have been welcome.

No such accusation can be made against the lithe rendition of the score throughout the opera by the Orchestra Teatro Regio Torino. Ottavio Dantone directs with his proactive and lively contribution on the harpsichord, ensuring a vigorous interpretation that also remains graceful and sparkling, not least in the relatively well-known Sinfonia. In this live recording, the balance between voices on stage and the orchestra in the pit is finely reproduced, so that neither one overtakes the other.

The production is a generally stimulating and convincing account of the work overall which should please fans of the composer and Baroque opera enthusiasts. Presumably for the purposes of sustaining dramatic tautness, some arias and recitatives are cut. For a more considered account of the work in the studio, devoted “Vivaldians” will want to investigate Dantone’s full recording of the opera on CD for Na´ve with his usual group, Accademia Bizantina, and five of the same vocal soloists as here. Admirers of the composer will likely already know that. So, this DVD represents a welcome opportunity to see the drama fully realised on the stage. Both represent a more engaged and dynamic performance of the opera than the earlier recording for Harmonia Mundi by Gilbert Bezzina and the Ensemble Baroque de Nice which, inexplicably, has male singers in the roles of Statira and Argene.

Curtis Rogers


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