Vivaldi L'Olimpiade Review

Released 2007.  

BBC Review

'Isn't it about time someone started mapping Vivaldi's vast, neglected operatic...

Andrew McGregor 2003

'Through one of those paradoxes so characteristic of musical history, Vivaldi's output still remains largely unknown'.

That's how the notes for this new recording begin...surely they cannot be serious: have they never heard of The Four Seasons? Well, that's precisely the point; the success of a small number of concertos has completely eclipsed the rest of Vivaldi's music with the result that he is now a prisoner of his own image as an instrumental composer. That may be pushing it, but how many Vivaldi operas can you name for instance? Thought so...and Vivaldi himself reckoned he'd written ninety-four of them. Which may also be a bit of an exaggeration, it turns out and anyway, he had an almost Rossini-like attitude to recycling: about forty percent of this opera comes from other pieces.

But isn't it about time someone got off their backsides and started mapping Vivaldi's vast, neglected operatic hinterland on disc? It's a perfect project for Alessandrini and Concerto Italiano, whose series of Vivaldi recordings for Opus 111 has already been stimulating and refreshing.

It would take me almost as long to explain what happens in L'Olimpiade as it would to listen to it; it's a pig to précis; basically the Ancient Greek Olympics are being held, and two great friends are entering the overall contest for top athlete, both in love with women they're forbidden from meeting. The father of one of the women is in charge of the games, and he's offering his daughter's hand to the victor, which means the two friends are effectively competing for the same woman, who one already loves, and the other is about to fall for in a big way. Oops.

Look, as an opera it's never going to outsell Tosca, but there's some beautiful music here, and fine performances. Try Licida's Act 1 aria Mentre dormi for starters, superbly sung by Sara Mingardo...in a trousers role. Yes, all four of our leads are sung by women, and it does get a bit confusing. But Alessandrini only relaxes his grip on the score to allow the most beautiful passages breathing space, and the playing is brilliant.

'Opere teatrali vol. 1' this says on the sleeve. Ninety-four operas? Looks like they'll be in the studio for some time...

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