Vivaldi's operas never seem to have caught the modern public imagination (in the wake of the baroque revival) in quite the same fashion as (for instance) Handel's. Yet the operas are delightful, although often quite recitative-heavy and lacking as many ensemble pieces as Handel's operas.
That said, the recitative is usually expressive and interesting, but each recitative does require excellent singers in order to bring out the best. The arias are often spectacular or very beautiful, but occasionally (I sigh to admit it) there are mundane arias in his operas. And the odd thing is that Vivaldi seems to have been quite fond of those more pedestrian arias - he re-used those particular melodies quite frequently.
Simply put, Vivaldi's operas (MUCH more so than Handel's operas) require first-class performers in order to bring out the best of his music. The singers must be superb, possessed of both vocal beauty and vocal dexterity of staggering control. Fantastic breath control and support are not - simply NOT - optional extras.
The orchestra MUST play with a precise clarity and "tightness" to give a powerful sense of cohesion. The conductor MUST draw this from the players, giving "spice", emphasis and legato where needed.
Unfortunately, these elements are often not present in this recording. The overall standard is not really worthy of a commercial recording, as the performances give the impression that this is a rehearsal, and that a great deal more work needs to be done - particularly in achieving a cohesion and sense of togetherness between the orchestra and the singers.
There is one singer, though, who is extremely good in the recording: the soprano singing the role of Arsace. Her beautiful voice is agile and lovely to listen to, with a great deal of expressiveness moreover. And Rosanna Bertani, who sings the third-tier soprano role of the enigmatic princess who appears to have fallen in love with a complete stranger, has an extremely pretty voice, well controlled (although there is the occasional moment of... not exactly sourness, but portions where her voice does not gleam with quite the consistent beauty it should), and with extremely good coloratura and range. She is not overwhelmingly expressive, but the quality of her voice is lovely.
The baritone singing Bertani's love interest has an attractive timbre and some facility with coloratura, although it's a little too aspirated and not sufficiently able to master the required speed. The mezzo singing Partenope occasionally sounds attractive, but it's a forgettable voice without any great facility in this style of music. The Rosmira (another mezzo) veers between sounding quite nice and sounding quite plain. This is just not a good enough voice to handle the main role, unfortunately.
But the worst two offenders, vocally speaking, are the tenor John Elwes and the male soprano who sings another hapless lover of Queen Partenope. It's not that these are unmusical voices... they're not. It's not that they don't have quite nice timbres - they do (sometimes). But oh dear Lord... the mish-mash they make of their arias! It's as though this were the first occasion on which they'd sung with this particular orchestra! The lack of cohesion is appalling. The male soprano has yet another problem - severe lack of volume. Often shoddy coloratura, unremarkable legato passages, insuffient vocal clarity... these things spoil the music.
The chorus is truly awful - sluggish, behind the beat, not together with the orchestra, and of a volume that leads one to suspect the singers may have been muzzled. The orchestra is lackadaisical - they play the notes correctly, but there is no sense of drama. They improve further into the performance, but they're never going to be above second-rate.
The recording quality is not terribly good. One hears the clump-clump-clump of footsteps, etc., and it does disrupt the music somewhat. However, this is a price one must pay with live performances. The orchestra appears to be more heavily miked than the singers - with a strange balance eventuating in several of the arias.
But the music itself...! Truly lovely music abounds in this opera. Plotwise, too, it's a very amusing opera, particularly the denouement. The arias are frequently terrific - frankly, if you love Vivaldi's music, you'll find some pleasure in this recording, and some of the arias are lovely indeed. I enjoyed immensely everything sung by the soprano singing Arsace in particular.
This isn't the worst recording of a Vivaldi opera by any means, but it's certainly a second- or third-rate recording for the most part. If the work had had another month of rehearsal, it would have been all the better for it, I'm sure. Yet there will be several parts of this recording that will enchant the listener. There is certainly a lively approach to the recitatives, for which I am very thankful. Judging by the photos in the recording's insert brochure, it looked gorgeous, and care was taken to give a very baroque appearance.
It's unlikely another "Rosmira fedele" recording is going to turn up any time soon. In the interim, this CD set is mostly listenable and sometimes enjoyable. For Vivaldi fans, I cautiously and with caveats recommend the recording. At least it's not unbearable, as is the case with the only commercially available recording of "La Fida Ninfa".