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Review: Vivaldi's Tamerlano on Naïve's Vivaldi Edition

Review: Vivaldi's Tamerlano on Naïve's Vivaldi Edition

A new recording, just released, of Vivaldi's opera TAMERLANO was forwarded to me. It is part of a comprehensive survey of the vocal compositions of Vivaldi by this company. Yes, Vivaldi, he of the red hair, teacher at a girls' school, and composer of myriad concerti for mandolin and other instruments. Many of his vocal works are no longer performed, but contain some music which deserves to be heard.

Apparently, TAMERLANO was composed utilizing music from other Vivaldi operas as well as music from vocal works of other composers(!). Remember that as recently as Rossini and Donizetti, composers would recycle their own compositions. There were no recordings or way of preserving their output (aside from publishing), so this was a way of perpetuating their work. The more times a melody was recycled, the greater the chance future generations would remember it.

Tamerlano has conquered Turkey and the defeated leader Bajazet is his prisoner. He is in love with Bajazet's daughter Asteria, who is also desired by Tamerlano's friend and general Andronico. The fact that Tamerlano is affianced to Irene does not bother him at all. Idaspe is a friend of Andronico and spends much of the opera dispensing advice to the other characters, not allowing affairs of the heart to cloud his judgement. There is not much action, the composer preferring to concentrate on the ruminations of the characters as regards their respective predicaments.

Vivaldi did not have the gift for melody that Handel, another Baroque master, did; much of his vocal writing can be tedious. The formal Baroque A B A' pattern of the arias does not help. There is also a tremendous amount of recitative in the work, something that would have to be pared down for modern audiences if the work is to be staged. Italian audiences understood the language, which would have made these long passages tolerable.

One disconcerting aspect of the opera, as written, is the assignment of voices of higher tessitura to the heroic roles. Andronico is a soprano, while his paramour is a contralto. TAMERLANO is a countertenor, albeit a rather forceful presence with a commanding voice. The character of Bazajet is a conventional baritone. All of the singers on the recording are adept at the various vocal styles one encounters in the Baroque world, especially the fiendishly difficult coloratura; these operas were composed for singers competing to outdo each others' vocal feats. Tamerlano is sung by Filippo Mineccia who is quite menacing in the title role. His compatriot, Andronico, is sung with gorgeous tone by soprano Marina De Liso. Bruno Taddia is Bajazet, who sings well in this thankless role. Asteria is the coloratura contralto Delphine Galou. She copes beautifully with the challenging vocal line and it is truly refreshing to hear a lower voice sing coloratura rather than the usual high soprano. Arianna Vendittelli is the excellent Idaspe. The put-upon Irene is the beautiful-voiced Sophie Rennert.

The original instrument group Accademia Bizantina is directed with verve by Ottavio Dantone. The quality of the recording is excellent and the vocal-instrumental balance spot-on. There is a multilingual libretto, biographies of the singers, as well as background on the opera itself. A truly scholarly endeavor recommended primarily to Vivaldi aficionados, but potentially enjoyable by all.

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