Vinci Rarity

Review by: Robert Levine


Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 8

The possibility of Leonardo Vinci (1690-1730) ever being counted among the world’s great composers is pretty slim; he composed almost three dozen operas—both buffe and serie—and was particularly active in Naples. Judging from La Partenope, which here gets its first recording (taken from live performances in Murcia, Spain in April and May, 2011), he was a good craftsman who composed fine arias of both the introspective and showpiece variety, some quite beautiful.

The opera, composed in 1725, was a rush job—his success in 1724 in Venice with Iphigenia in Tauris led to a commission for another opera to be composed quickly. In 1722, Domenico Sarro had set a libretto by Silvio Stampiglia called Partenope; Vinci used not only the libretto but Sarro’s recitatives and a chorus or two. He cannibalized many of his own compositions for the needed arias, manipulated them, and crammed Stampiglia’s texts in to the music, eliminating much of the sense. (He also changed the opera’s name to Rosmira Fedele, which is the name given to it when Vivaldi set the same libretto as a pasticcio in 1738.)

The result is a plot that might make even the most avid archaeologist give up: all you need know is that Partenope was the (legendary) founder of Naples. Both Handel and Caldara set Stampiglia’s libretto as well. Vinci’s opera was a success when presented but quickly disappeared; in 2004 it was revived for the first time since its premiere with mostly the same forces recorded here.

The stars of the performance are Sonia Prina in the title role, and the orchestra, I Turchini, under Antonio Florio. The full orchestra, including winds, brass, and timpani—and audible continuo—play magnificently and with spunk and energy, never letting the “action” fall apart. And Prina is her usual, accurate, self; having to sound more feminine than in her trouser roles, her voice sounds lighter and she dispatches her coloratura with élan. The role of Arsace, originally for castrato (as were two others), sits low, and mezzo Maria Ercolano does well by it. Maria Grazia Schiavo’s Rosmira is lovely. The recording is a bit “in your face” but that adds some excitement. Not a masterpiece, but a good performance of a somewhat by-the-numbers rarity; certainly for the vocal- and baroque-curious.

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