This marvelous recording is part of the combined effort of a few distinguished cultural institutions to bring to life previously unpublished and unperformed works of the great baroque Venetian composer, Antonio Vivaldi. Looking at the history of this recording, once realises that Vivaldi's musical genius has always been highly esteemed, although mostly by an elite of connoisseurs of music, which included Johann Sebastian Bach. Alas, Sturm und Drang of clamorous 19th century has obscured the delicacy of the baroque; Wagner's cries and Mascagni's whispers completely silenced all the exquisite refinement of zeffiretti e sussurratti, altogether with Handel's augelletti che cantate, who, just as Vivaldi with Four Seasons, got by through decades riding Messiah.
While Handel fared better in his operas revival for whatever whims of fate - perhaps chiefly because he was a court composer of the monarchy that still survives, while Vivaldi's La Serenissima republic fell victim to French Usurper - the lascivious and extremely prolific Maestro di'concerti dell'Ospedale della Pietà, an orphanage for girls (Il Preto Rosso appears to be wise enough to channel his lecherous energy elsewhere) produced splendid music of all genres - including dozens of operas. We are so very lucky that we can hear the recording so many these days - all thanks to the aforementioned efforts by The National University Library of Turin, Instituto per I Beni Musicali in Piemonte and the recording firm Na´ve brought to us those previously unheard works of the Maestro.
It is even more fascinating to learn that The National Library of Turin has not always been so enthusiastic about Vivaldi. While his manuscripts were changing hands from 1745, being sold by Fransceso Vivaldi, the composer's brother, to a Venetian nobleman Il Conte Jacopo Soranzo, who in turn passed them to Il Conte Giacomo Durazzo (I just can't fail to note that Villa Durazzo in Santa Margherita Ligure occupies one of the most beautiful positions of the whole Ligurian coast), and his descendant, Marcello Durazzo, left the manuscripts to Colegio Salesiano San Carlo.
And it is then, in 1926, the rector of this college decided to sell the volumes on the market. He offered it to The National Library of Turin, but then the City of Turin refused to buy it. Who agreed to buy it then, providing funds to this current pride and glory of the library? It turned out to be a Jewish banker and stockbroker, Roberto Foa. Thus the Vivaldi collection of manuscripts acquired by that transaction, bears Foa's name, gracing the title of this recording. On a side note, it seems that being a Jewish stockbroker is conducive to appreciation of fine music - Marcel Proust's grandfather had the same profession, and Proust is a rare writer who seem to have a better musical taste than many of his literary colleagues.
The paradox of life is that Olga Rudge, a mistress and life-long partner of Ezra Pound, made the first catalogue of Foa collection, and that Ezra Pound himself, a staunch anti-Semite, did a great deal to promote Vivaldi's music. This whole story provides plenty of material for the contemplation on the human nature; Ezra Pound chose to live in Venice, perhaps the most mercantile of all Italian cities, with immense presence and power of Judaic followers forever immortalized by a well-known English writer. Skylocks had been supporting arts in Venice through various venues, including Fondazione Ugo e Olga Levi, still fully functioning and providing funding research and preservation of music. It is amazing to observe how people on polar sides of life, as Ezra Pound and Venetian/Italian Jewish supporters of music pursued the same artistic goal - including preservation and performance of Vivaldi's oevre.
Listening to this CD, and to some other works by Vivaldi, including CDs issued by the aforementioned effort, one only wonders why there is no Vivaldi Festival, in the same fashion as there is Handel in Halle or Bach in Leipzig, or Wagner in Bayreuth; this composer certainly deserves it as much as Verdi, at least, and how nice it would be to have such a festival in Venice or in Veneto in general; it is interesting that Olga Rudge had founded such a festival, but it had not survived.
So far all we have are these fabulous recordings and one DVD with Marilyn Horne in Orlando Furioso production which by now almost 40 years old. And it contributes to frustration over why there is a numberless foray of Verdi and Puccini every year in Verona and elsewhere, with innumerable sound and video recording of the same beaten-up works, but to find a live production of Vivaldi is a much bigger ordeal.
In all fairness, today's performances of Vivaldi's work are gaining momentum; his opera La Griselda will be part of Sante Fe Opera festival this year, and strangely enough, he is most often performed in France, during Beaune Baroque Music Festival and elsewhere in France. Hopefully, he will find a new home in France - maybe it is coincidental that Jean-Christoph Spinosi is so after him, while Italians seem to prefer Monteverdi over any other baroque composer.
Let it be in France - how enchanting it would be to sit in the theater and listen to ANY opera that is represented on this disk, especially if performed by such extraordinary singers as Sandrine Piau - her rendition of Usignoli che piangete is breath-taking; her arias here are my definite favorites. It is curious however, that not all arias here can be attributed to an opera by Vivaldi - this Foa 28 collection represents Vivaldi's personal choice of opera arias, but some, as "Zeffiretti che sussurrate", have not been identified as belonging to any particular opera.
Definitely Ann Hallenberg also delights senses with her beautiful vocal agility, clarity of tone and overall virtuosity. Paul Agnew sounds good, too, but somehow one gets an impression that Vivaldi's music is best fit for female voices - after all, he wrote for all-female school in Venice. Yet if these tenor arias were written for a famous tenor (Antonio Barbieri), then Paul Agnew's voice fails to impress. Female voices here sound much more voracious and exciting.
The music direction of Federico Maria Sardelli was also very good; I initially approached this disk with caution, since his Orlando Furioso recording was to me a disaster, compared to Claudio Scimone and even Jean-Christophe Spinosi, who really is spinning it too much. Yet here the tempi and accents sounded well, although it is easier to perform a variety recording than to deliver a full opera.
Overall, this recording is a delight to hear, it will provide a pound of pleasure any time one listens to it. It is interesting to compare it with an early CD, by Rinaldo Alessandrini and Jean-Christophe Spinosi - it features more singers, thus making it more varied - available here on Amazon as "Vivaldi Edition: Operas".
The music sounds quite the same, though - Stravinsky once said that Vivaldi wrote the same one opera 400 times; sometimes this strikes as true, but it is not almost the same with many other composers. In any case, this CD is from the best, most learned, abundant and educated talent in music writing period of history ever, i.e. baroque, and provides for endless listening pleasure.