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Roberta Invernizzi [Photo by RibaltaLuce Studio]
24 Jul 2015

Roberta Invernizzi, Wigmore Hall

‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.

Roberta Invernizzi, Wigmore Hall

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Roberta Invernizzi [Photo by RibaltaLuce Studio]


‘Here’ was Verona, just one of the Italian cities — Venice, Milan, Pavia, Rome and Mantua among others — in which Vivaldi had, since the performance of his opera Ottone in Villa in Vicenza in 1713, built ‘my name and reputation throughout Europe having composed ninety-four operas’, as he puts it in another letter, of 1739.

After his death, Vivaldi’s popularity waned; even the perennial concerti and instrumental works were little-known before the revival of interest in the composer’s music at the start of the 20th century. In recent years, that interest has stretched to his operatic oeuvre and around 50 operas have been rediscovered (some of the 94 mentioned were probably pasticci); there have been acclaimed performances and recordings by artists such as Cecilia Bartoli and Europa Galante, and by Roberta Invernizzi and La Risonanza (directed by Fabio Bonizzoni) who in 2012 released a CD of arias by Vivaldi (Glossa GCD922901).

This concert at the Wigmore Hall paired Vivaldi with Handel: a sort of operatic head-to-head. The programme was well-planned: each half focused on the vocal work of one composer, a selection of arias framing an instrumental work by the other composer. The arias themselves formed a sequence of contrasting moods and affekts, almost like movements of a symphony.

Invernizzi’s strengths were immediately on display in the opening aria, ‘Da due venti’ from Vivaldi’s Ercole su’l Termodonte, a fiery number in which Hippolyte, sister of the Queen of the man-hating Amazons, despairs in confusion having fallen in love with a man. Utterly committed to the drama, animated in delivery, Invernizzi has a real feeling for character and her portrayal of Hippolyte’s distress was visceral and intense. Her soprano has a thrilling glossiness and radiance; it is an immensely agile and she used it flamboyantly in the fierce fioiriture and wide leaps which conjure the ‘sea agitated by two winds’ to which Hippolyte compares her heart.

However, here and throughout the evening, vivid theatrical intensity was sometimes acquired at the expense of musical accuracy. Invernizzi employed a wide, weighty vibrato which — whatever one argues about ‘authenticity’ — adversely affected her control of pitch, and upper notes were repeatedly approached from below. In the slower numbers particularly, she struggled to shape the line: she tended to slide between notes rather than create a clean line, and there were some ungainly and distracting swells which tempered her bright, clean sound with a rather whiny edge. Her manner of performance could also be diverting: singing from the score in the Vivaldi-focused first half, Invernizzi whipped through the pages (presumably she was using an orchestral score rather than a vocal score) at great pace and with extravagant gestures, creating a great flapping and rustling, particularly as she raced back to the opening page for the da capo repeat.

‘Ombre vane, ingiusti orrori’ from Griselda was more reliable and show-cased Invernizzi’s rich tone and vocal intensity. There was an unearthly quality to the singer’s unaccompanied declamation, ‘Empty shades, iniquitous horrors’ as Constanza, Griselda’s daughter, expresses her fears, and also greater fluidity of line; the soprano’s strong, burnished lowered register was in evidence when Constanza cries in horror at the cruelty of fate. Problems of intonation and phrasing returned, however, in ‘Se mai senti spirarti’ from Cantone in Utica, where the tuning of the octave leaps was often approximate and where there was poor control of line. This is a ravishing aria of seduction, in which Caesar declares his passion for his enemy’s daughter, but the evenness and mellowness required were lacking, which was a pity as the muted violins and lone pizzicato viola of the accompaniment were deeply atmospheric.

The final Vivaldi aria, ‘Rete, lacci e strali adopra’, from Dorilla in Tempe made for a more confident and satisfying conclusion to the first half of the programme. Invernizzi’s coruscating soprano powerfully captured Filindo’s anger and frustration as, rejected by Eudamia, he compares his pursuit to a futile hunt. Here, the coloratura was both vivid and well-controlled; the soprano raced fierily through the wide-ranging scales, arpeggios and melismas with heroic fury and brilliance.

My reservations continued after the interval in the three Handel arias presented. ‘Piangerò la sorte mia’ from Guilio Cesare (in which Cleopatra laments losing both the battle against her brother Tolomeo and her beloved Caesar) suffered from a mannered emphasis on particular notes which disrupted the line, affected the tuning and thus weakened the dramatic intensity — although, as in the Vivaldi pieces heard earlier, the agitated ‘b’ section showed Invernizzi’s suppleness. Rodelinda’s expression of rhapsodic joy and longing for her husband, ‘Ritorna, o caro’, achieved a more tender simplicity and refinement. And, Invernizzi came into her own in the final aria, ‘Da tempeste’ from Guilio Cesare, conjuring great excitement as Cleopatra celebrates her liberation by Caesar from the clutches of Tolomeo and anticipates the victory that is sure to follow. Again, the soprano negotiated the coloratura with impressive agility and athleticism, and theatrical flair, and she used dynamics judiciously to shape the structure of the whole. Interestingly, Invernizzi stepped back from the music stand for this aria and, singing from memory, she seemed altogether more at ease.

La Risonanza, directed with verve and precision by Fabio Bonizzoni, were exemplary accompanists. Bonizzoni kept the pace pulsing and the strings alert, and his pounding continuo was invigorating. The players were attentive to every detail and played, by turns, with tremendous vigour and panache, and with grace and sensitivity. The string tone in the two instrumental interludes was beguiling. Handel’s Overture to Rodrigo was full-toned, but still airy and light, and was enhanced by lovely solos from leader Carlo Lazzaroni. String flourishes and florid ornaments were meticulously executed in Vivaldi’s Sinfonia to Dorilla in Tempe.

There were two splendid Vivaldi encores — from Ottone in Villa and the oratorio Juditha triumphans — in which Invernizzi seemed more relaxed. In the former, she at last found a floating, pure line of immense beauty. But, this fine ending to the recital could not quite dispel all my misgivings.

Claire Seymour

Performers and programme:

Roberta Invernizzi, soprano

La Risonanza: Fabio Bonizzoni (director, harpsichord); Carlo Lazzaroni, Laura Cavazzuti, Silvia Colli, Claudia Combs, Ulrike Slowik and Rossella Borsoni (violins); Livia Baldi (viola); Caterina dell’Agnello (cello); Vanni Moretto (double bass).

Vivaldi: Ercole su’l Termodonte RV710, ‘Da due venti’; Griselda RV718, ‘Ombre vane, ingiusti orrori’; Handel: Overture from Rodrigo HWV5; Vivaldi: Catone in Utica RV705, ‘Se mai senti spirarti sul volto’; Dorilla in Tempe RV709, ‘Rete, lacci e strali adopra’; Handel: Giulio Cesare in Egitto HWV17 ‘Piangerò la sorte mia’; Vivaldi: Dorilla in Tempe RV709, Sinfonia; Handel: Rodelinda HWV19, ‘Ritorna, o caro e dolce mio tesoro’; Giulio Cesare in Egitto HWV17, ‘Da tempeste il legno infranto’.

Wigmore Hall, London, Tuesday 21st July 2015.

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