Review by: Robert Levine
Artistic Quality: 8
Sound Quality: 9
This is the first complete recording of this opera. A somewhat abbreviated version was available on Nuova Era a while ago, nicely led by René Clemencic and featuring some very odd singing by a male soprano in the role of Aminta, the servant of our hero, Licida, which was sung by counter-tenor Gerard Lesne. While those two bits of casting probably are more historically correct (the roles were taken by castrati at the premiere in 1740), the performers on this new recording, a female soprano (Laura Giordano) and female contralto (Sara Mingardo), are far better singers and are thoroughly believable. Enough about that.
The opera takes place around the Olympic games: King Clistene (baritone Riccardo Novaro) has promised his daughter Aristea (contralto Sonia Prina) to the winner, but she loves, and is loved by, Megacle (soprano Roberta Invernizzi). Into this mix comes Argene (mezzo Marianna Kulikova), who was romantically linked to Licida, who now loves Aristea; but because Licida has no chance of winning the Games he asks his friend Megacle to play, disguised as him. Megacle wins, but Aristea thinks it’s Licida and is downcast since she loves Megacle; Argene tells the king about the switcheroo of identities. Licida is exiled but is later discovered to be the king’s long-lost son. He’s pardoned, he weds Argene, and Aristea and Megacle wed too. Alcandro (bass Sergio Foresti) is a confidant of Clistene’s and shows up occasionally.
The performance is first rate, with Rinaldo Alessandrini leading his Concerto Italiano with verve and the type of clean attacks that this rambling plot requires. The secret is to make each recitative and aria an event, and he knows how to achieve just that. Most of the arias are scored for strings alone (in different formations) but there’s never a sameness; when the winds show up they’re very effective. Most of the arias are short–unlike those in many other Vivaldi operas–and tend to be allegro or faster; the action seems quicker than it is.
Sara Mingardo as Licida almost walks away with the show; her stunning contralto is used with grace and power and she gives us this character’s many facets. Laura Giordano’s pretty, light soprano gets through the showpiece “Siam navi all’onde” in Act 2 with incredible ease and virtuosity, and if she tends to undercharacterize elsewhere, it’s the libretto’s fault. Roberta Invernizzi is a strong, noble Megacle, the good friend and winner, and Sonia Prina sings Aristea’s pretty, nice-girl music with radiant mid-range tone. The lower voices and mezzo Kulikova are all good but lack distinction. Vivaldi and/or Baroque opera fans will need no coaxing to buy this set; others might have to work a bit getting used to the format. But I doubt this performance will be bettered.
Buy Now from Arkiv Music
Recording Details:Reference Recording: this one
ANTONIO VIVALDI - L'Olimpiade