- Published on Amazon.com
ABOUT THE OPERA:
Dorilla in Tempe is another Vivaldi opera which deserves to be better known. It is the 33rd opera out of the fifty or so the Venetian composer wrote and it is described as a "melodramma eroica pastorale" in three acts, which gives potential listeners a clue as to what they should expect. It was first performed at the Teatro S. Angelo in Venice in 1726 when Vivaldi was at the height of his career. The composer had then 25 year operatic experience behind him. So, Dorilla in Tempe can be considered as being one of his mature opera in the same league as Griselda, a better known opera also composed around that time. It is interesting to note that on 14 December 1725, the Amsterdam Gazette announced the publication of his opus 8," il cimento dell' armonia e dell' invenzione " which contains the famous Four Seasons. It is therefore no coincidence to find that the first movement of the Spring concerto appears quoted at length and used to good effect in the first act of the opera when a chorus of shepherds sings in praise of the spring (Dell'aura al sussurrar). One should not be surprised by the fact that Vivaldi re used part of this composition since for their new works, it was common practice among baroque composers to borrow, quote or recycle scores they ( or other composers ! ) had already written. For instance, JS Bach used movements from his 1st and 3rd Brandenburg concertos for his BWV 52, 207 and 174 cantatas while Handel often reworked and recycled "bodyparts" from previous operas to create new music. Nothing went to waste in this musical recycling process!
Dorilla in Tempe " has come down to us in the form of a pasticcio of eight years later that includes arias by Giacomelli and Leo, as well as other interpolations whose origins cannot be traced. The work adheres to the traditional opera seria structure of not more than one aria in each scene ". (Quoted from the article written by Lionel Salter and published in the Gramophone) .
The plot for this opera was put together by Antonio Maria Lucchini, a scholar who also provided the libretto for Farnace (1727). It is based on Greek mythology and sounds rather convoluted. This is a feature common to other contemporary operas such as those by Handel and Hasse. So, to keep things short and simple, I shall only give the salient points of the story which bears some close resemblance to the legend of Perseus and Andromeda . It takes place in the valley of Tempe in Thessaly and is about the love of Apollo, in the guise of the herdsman Nomio , for Dorilla, King Admeto's daughter, who in turn is in love with Elmiro, a local shepherd, who is also loved by Eudamia, a nymph, who is herself loved by Filindo, another shepherd ( have you already lost the plot ?). To spice things up , a monster is devastating the region and the only way to appease it, is to sacrifice Dorilla. Elmiro tries to convince her to flee but to no avail because she would rather stay and die in order to save her father's kingdom ! She prepares herself to be bound to a rock by the sea (sounds familiar?) in preparation for the sacrifice but Nomio arrives on the scene and to everyone's amazement overcomes the monster in just thirty seconds (he would, wouldn 't he ? being a god in disguise ! ), thus saving the day and ... Dorilla who only expresses gratitude but not love.
However, Elmiro fears Dorilla might fall in love with her rescuer, which causes resentment on her part in the beautiful aria "Come l' onda in mezzo al mare". In the meantime Nomio, undeterred by Elmiro's indifference to his love for her, wastes no time and asks the king for her hand as a reward. Admeto, feeling he has a debt towards him readily grants his wish. So, preparations are made for the festivities to celebrate Nomio and Dorilla's wedding, but lo and behold ! Dorilla has been abducted by Elmiro in sheer desperation. However, Nomio manages to catch the fugitives ( he would,wouldn't he? being a god in disguise !) and asks the king to punish Elmiro only. Dorilla comes forward to take all the blame and to beg for Elmiro's life to be spared, which forces Nomio's admiration in the beautiful aria" Fidi amanti al vostro amore ". The god then reveals his true identity and decides the final outcome by allowing Dorilla to marry the man she loves.
Of course, such a naive artificial Deus ex machina plot device that was frequently used in ancient Greek plays to solve impossible situations is unlikely to appeal to a modern audience but it would have to an 18th century Venetian public who like the rest of Europe was very much into Greek / Roman culture and was fond of any composition to do with it. In any case, this rather convenient conclusion is dramatically convincing here.
iIn fact, what makes this opera stand out is the quality of the music as well as the range of emotions being portrayed. All the dramatic, melodramatic, heroic and pastoral elements are successfully developed and conveyed by the composer who has produced a score full of dazzling instrumental colours and textures as well as very beautiful arias to express a whole spectrum of emotions and dramatic situations. Vivaldi has also used the choruses to good effect by introducing them at different key stages of the three acts to heighten emotions or highlight a specific dramatic moment being unfolded.
Dorilla in Tempe is ample proof that Vivaldi had not only a special flair for ear catching instrumental music, but was also a major composer of baroque operas like Handel.
ABOUT THE INTERPRETATION AND THE RECORDING :
However, in order to bring this opera to life like many other baroque operas , one needs a totally committed cast of singers with flawless technique and perfect understanding of the score requirements as well as an orchestra capable of bringing off all the subtle instrumental details.
In my view, we have it all here with first rate singing from the soloists (especially Maria Cristina Kiehr as Dorilla ) and superb playing from the Ensemble Baroque de Nice conducted by Gilbert Bezzina. What is so refreshing is to find that Bezzina and his musicians do not resort to those " effetti" that some more well known Italian forrmations seem to be so fond of, in order to make the music sound more expressive. Excessively fast or slow tempi combined with a tendency to over accentuate rhythms will adversely affect the delicacy and subtlety of the musical pattern and texture, turning the music into some kind of grotesque caricature . If you listen to some of the operas on the Naïve label ", you will hear what I mean. No wonder, I have hardly played the Naive series of the Vivaldi operas which I have. As a matter of fact, they have been lying idle in my music library for quite some time now.
By contrast, the Nice Ensemble does not try to be clever by pulling the music apart, overdoing tempi or putting every single detail under a microscope. The musicians are just happy to play the music the best they can for us to enjoy and this, I find personally most appealing and musically more convincing.
I understand that there have been some conflicting opinions about this recording since its release back in 1994. The French classical music review, Diapason gave it a rapturous welcome and awarded it the coveted "diapason d'or" ( the Diapason very best review rating above five stars ), given only to very special recordings whereas the Gramophone gave it a mixed reception, commenting positively on the quality of the soloists but expressing some serious reservations about the quality of the recording which was spoilt in their view by a poor balance between the orchestra and the soloists who were given too much prominence. Lionel Salter went on to conclude : " a performance not without flaws even if its intentions were good".
Well, having just acquired this set myself after a long search for the best price and having listened to this marvellous opera several times on my high end system, I have no hesitation whatsover siding up with Diapason and I can state quite categorically that this is a magnificent box set in all respects with superb singers and top class orchestral playing. With regards to the quality of the recorded sound, the French engineer Pierre Verany and his team have surpassed themselves by producing a stunning recording where you can easily pick out the various sections of the orchestra and the acoustics of the recording venue, a church in Nice, I believe. Also, as far as my ears can tell, there is no issue with the recording levels between the orchestra and the soloists. It is no coincidence if I have already played this Vivaldi opera several times as well as Farnace with Jordi Savall. This recording has now become one of my favourite opera demo records with the Ring ( Solti), Macbeth ( Schippers) and Cimarosa Chapel Master ( Kertesz)). The dynamic range on these recordings has to be heard to be believed on the normal cd format. What would they sound like, remastered on sacd DSD ? Simply, mind-blowing !
I would therefore urge any confirmed Vivaldian, any avid collector, any genuine lover of baroque operas or any obsessed hifi enthusiast , ( and I fall into all these categories ! ) to try and track down a copy of this box set which, unfortunately has been deleted and is only available second hand or new at a rather hefty price, currently £35.15 for the cheapest copy second hand ; but despair not ! If you have access to Spotify, you will be able to listen to the only available version of Dorilla in Tempe, using Blue Tooth for improved sound. You will not be disappointed, I promise you.
Thank you for reading my ( rather lengthy ! ) review.
Sources used for this review: the reviewer's personal knowledge ( he says modestly! ) , the article written by Lionel Salter and published in the Gramophone review, the comprehensive notes from the box set as well as various articles found on Internet.