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03 Aug 2009
Vivaldi: La fida ninfa
Although Antonio Vivaldi’s instrumental compositions were highly popular in his lifetime, and have been held in high regard throughout the centuries, most of his operas have been — until recently — relegated to obscurity.
This sad state of affairs is being rectified by the
wonderful new series of opera recordings available through the Naïve label,
part of its larger Vivaldi Edition project. Naïve’s most recent offering
in this series is a concert production of La fida ninfa, a work which
was premiered at the opening of Verona’s Teatro Filarmonico in January of
1732. One of the organizers of the event was the librettist, Francesco
Scipione, Marquis di Maffei. Scipione was a Jesuit-educated aristocrat who
specialized in Etruscology, dramatic theory, and classical philology —
but still managed to find time to participate in the War of the Spanish
Succession and, in his later years, write a famous theological tract attacking
Jansenist doctrines. The poet’s most famous literary effort was
undoubtedly his dramma, Merope, a work which served as one of the
models for Voltaire’s tragedy of the same name. Unfortunately
Scipione’s libretto for La fida Ninfa, an allegory on
matrimonial love replete with love-struck nymphs, grumpy pirates, and multiple
cases of mistaken identity, is less distinguished. While it is a credit to the
composer that he was still able to create an impressive work from this clichéd
literary material, the lack of a convincing plot line weakens the overall
impact of the opera.
More significant for modern listeners, however, is the fact that La fida
ninfa betrays the influences of the new musical style which manifested
itself most powerfully a year later in the work of Pergolesi — La
serva padrona. This new approach can be heard immediately in the overture
of Vivaldi’s work, which features short, repeated melodic motifs, a
decidedly homophonic texture, and the spare harmonic palette more typical of
the mid-century style than the high baroque. This impression is only
strengthened in the many beautiful solo arias and duets of the opera, where
there is an unmistakable emphasis on simplicity and clarity of formal
structures. Also indicative of this new style are the ensemble numbers which
end each of the three acts: the remarkably beautiful trio finale of Act I
(“S’egli è ver”), the quartet which concludes Act II
(“Così fu gl’occhi miei?”), and the duet/choral conclusion of
Act III (“Non temer”) sound much less like Vivaldi than they do
Pergolesi or even Mozart.
Musical highlights of this recording include the restrained virtuosity of
Verónica Cangemi as Morasto (her interpretation of the Act I aria “Dolce
fiamma” is particularly fine), and the musicality of Topi Lehtipuu
(Narete), who brings a relaxed and confident tone to all his solo arias.
Vivaldi lovers will especially enjoy Narete’s beautiful lament
(“Deh ti piega”) in Act II, where the very able conductor,
Jean-Christophe Spinosi, creates an astonishingly sensitive interplay between
the tenor and the orchestra. Lorenzo Regazzo is highly effective in his
near-buffo role as Oralto, the spurned and highly irritable pirate,
and Sandrine Piau portrays Licori, the faithful nymph, with great sensitivity
and an impressive command baroque vocal technique. While there is no shortage
of vocal fireworks in this recording (Cangemi’s virtuoso performance of
“Destino avaro” in Act II verges on the unbelievable) the pastoral
moments of La fida ninfa seem the most memorable: the haunting duets
“Dimmi pastore” (Act I) between Philippe Jaroussky (Osmino) and
Marie-Nicole Lemieux (Elpina) and “Pan, ch’ognun venera”
between Lehtipuu and Jaroussky in Act III are spectacular. It is in these less
hurried sections of the opera that Spinosi’s orchestra displays its
wonderful musicality and attention to detail which are the hallmarks of the
Vivaldi recordings of the Ensemble Matheus.
La fida ninfa is not one of Vivaldi’s better efforts. The
music for the finale, which features a dialogue between Juno and Aeolus
(competently sung by Sara Mingardo and Christian Senn), is artificial and
uninspired. Even the Tempesta di mare which precedes the last scene is
a disappointment (through no fault of the orchestra) and does not measure up to
similar moments Vivaldi’s Seasons, for example. The fact that
this opera was composed in great haste (Vivaldi was not even the first choice
of the organizers of the theatre opening, having replaced their preferred
composer, Giuseppe Maria Orlandini, at the last moment) is sadly apparent in
some of the music. Even so, the Ensemble Matheus’ fine performance of
this work is remarkable, and more than compensates for the occasional
weaknesses of the composition and blandness of Scipione’s libretto.
Donald R. Boomgaarden
Dean, College of Music and Fine Arts
Loyola University New Orleans