Vivaldi – L’Oracolo in Messenia – Fabio Biondi conducts Europa Galante, EMI/Virgin/Wiener Konzerthaus, 2012.
An embarrassment of riches, this recording: loads of gorgeous, unusual arias bridged by dramatic recits and lament-monologues; five very different mezzos spiced with fabulous tenor and counter-tenor; a daring, cheeky baroque orchestra that never settles for just a background.
The mature mezzo character, the queen Merope, is sung by Ann Hallenberg with the customary stylistic and technical mastery. She equally shines in the soliloquies of the type reminiscent of the long solos of Monteverdi and French baroque (No. 15 “Ecco pur giunto il giorno” on the first CD and No. 24 “Sei dolor, sei furor” on the second) as in the more traditional baroque arias (just compare her “Barbaro traditor” with “No, non meriti pietà” – both angry arias but sounding very different). She is also splendid in the recitatives, woven through by a bold, restless harpsichord, which will keep you interested at every turn. Her first argument with Polifonte (Magnus Staveland) is a complex business. The undercurrent of the harpsichord adds layers to the conversation, possibly even some erotic tension.
Speaking of Polifonte, the male voices are not shortchanged. Staveland gets, for example, “Se al cader del mostro orrendo”, with a most unusual and brilliant orchestral legwork, one of the top five in this work full of wonderfully weird music, or “Nel mar così funesta” with orchestral sections in all their unrestrained glory alternating for the tyrant’s benefit. Anassandro (Xavier Sabata) is probably the most complicated character of all, in charge of twisting the plot, shifting alliances and fighting his own demons. Sabata manages to make him very believable.
Trasimede, one of the trouser roles, is sung by the young Yulia Lezhneva. S/he pines for Merope and delivers perfectly the mad coloratura arias like “Son qual nave” and “Sin campo armato”. There are all manner of colours in her voice, and she employs the spectrum. The ingénue (Elmira), in yet another atypical turn, is sung by the darkest voice on cast, Romina Basso. An aria that stands out is “Spera quest’alma amante”.
Elmira’s love interest and Merope’s son Epitide is Vivica Genaux, whose lighter timbre of a young man suits the role well. The remaining trousered mezzo Franziska Gottwald (Licisco) has a very different voice, darker and smaller and intricate – equivalent of a rose in bud which sometimes opens to the benefit of others too. Licisco’s “Sinche il tiranno scendere” is a very exciting ride.
The booklet contains, inter alia, a very interesting piece by Frédéric Delaméa about how the work came to be and the full libretto translated into English, German and French.