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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The singers in this production all acquit themselves ably. Sandrine Piau is Atenaide, and is the only soprano in this production. The mezzo Vivica Genaux is billed in the liner notes as a soprano, but sings in the high mezzo-soprano range as the Emperor Teodosio. Genaux's singing is as thrilling as ever and her phrasing and control are exquisite. The low mezzo-soprano Romina Basso is also perfect as the dastardly Varane, rival for Atenaide. There are one or two moments where she lacks the bottom range for this part, but her rendition of her first-act aria Tanto lieto ho il core in petto, an aria taken from Orlando furioso, is much better than Marie Nicole Lemieux's performance of it in the recording of that opera. The tenors Paul Agnew and Steffano Ferrari also aquit themselves nicely, Agnew as the slightly ineffectual Leontino, father of Atenaide, and Ferrari as the emperor's attendant Probo.
The two stars of this recording are, for me, the French singers Nathalie Stutzmann and Guillemette Laurens. Laurens is the emperor's sister Pulcheria, a manipulative woman determined to scuttle her brother's pursuit of Atenaide. Vivaldi provided this character with arias that signal her unsettled and manipulative nature perfectly, and Laurens performs them wonderfully, fully committing to the role. Her aria, La sul margine del rio, has a lovely if somewhat inane melody, but the ornamentation that Vivaldi supplied (echoed in the strings) transforms it into a hugely difficult piece that Laurens performs with grace and charm. This aria is one of the highlights of the work for me, although all of Pulcheria's arias provide the singer with a challenge.
Nathalie Stutzmann plays the role of Marziano, a Byzantine general who is in love with Pulcheria but cannot hope to be her suitor because of his lower social standing. Marziano has only 4 arias--2 in the first act, and one in the second and the third act--but they are all amazing. The second aria in the first act is a recycled aria from Orlando furioso. In that work it was sung very nicely by the mezzo-soprano Blandine Staskiewicz, but Stutzmann brings a weight to the piece with her considerably lower alto, that makes the octave displacements and fast runs called for by Vivaldi even more spectacular. Her absolute control and ability to deliver the apparently impossible is part of Stutzmann's appeal here, although at times her vibrato is a little wide. Marziano's aria in the third act is devastating in its sadness--he finally admits to himself that his love for Pulcheria is hopeless--and here Stutzmann shines, fully committing to the drama of this piece in her almost sobbing delivery that is perfection.
All in all, this recording is a wonderful addition to the Naive series. I ordered my copy from France because I didn't want to wait for the U.S. release date, and it has been in constant rotation in my stereo in the last month. It is among my favorites in this series, as well as La Verita in Cimento and L'Olimpiade.
The booklet editorial notes concern themselves with the mystery surrounding the success or probable flop of Atenaide at the Teatro La Pergola in Florence back in December of 1728. Royal court complots notwithstanding and probably scheming against Vivalvi, audiences back then were no different if a little more critical than the opera going crowd today. They ultimately explain why this opera premiered to its best opening night and soon after went dormant for the next 280 years. Set in a time when operas were the entertainment equivalent to motion pictures, would the paying public return to see KONG KING when in the previous season had seen enough of KING KONG?
From Vivaldi's perspective, this opera was commissioned to him with less artistic autonomy than he was used to, and more strained situations than he would have liked. He did not care much for the poet Zeno imposed by his producers for Atenaide's libretto, and there seemed to have been an apparent rift between him and his empresarios over Ana Giro's role, his protegee and muse. Framing all this drama into the music, the result might not be surprising if Vivaldi gave Atenaide sloppy seconds borrowed from Orlando Furioso (1727) and Il Farnace(1727) to fulfill his contractual obligations and get it over with.
Putting the recycling issue to rest, the music is quite grand, the cast star-filled, and the orchestration creative. Sardelli's choice for fast and bright tempo is fascinating, and historically in tune with what baroque audiences and singers preferred and expected in the Italian settecento. After all, this was the time of the Masters, and the Castrati roamed and ruled the world. The standard was high. To meet this challenge, the Atenaide's cast here truly delivered. The aria Sorge L'irato Nembo is re-packaged beautifully and re-gifted in vibrant colors. It starts like the galloping of a horse that sounds stronger as the approching distance gets shorter, and then takes flight in the da capo like a unicorn dancing and prancing in the skies. Ferrari is again leading the role of primo amoroso and charming his way thru the aria Alme Perfide, my all time favorite from Atenaide...and by the way, Amazon, take note, Ferrari's name is Stefano not Franco. Granted, Franco Ferrari has certain je-ne-sais-quoi musical cacophony but request the baptismal rights to it first. It is great to hear more and more of Sandrine Piau. She has stamina and virtuosity, and together with Bartoli, Invernizzi, and Prina are the dueling divas of baroque singing today.
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