OP0304. FARNACE (Vivaldi), Live Performance, 2001, Teatro de la Zarzuela, Madrid, w.Jordi Savall Cond. Le Concert des Nations Ensemble; Furio Zanasi, Adriana Fernández, Sonia Mingardo, Gloria Banditelli, Sonia Prina, etc. (Spain) 3-AliaVox AV 9822, w. Elaborate 176pp. Libretto-Brochure, in Italian, French & English in beautiful hardbound book. Very long out-of-print, Final Copy! - 7619986098227
“Although 21 operas by Vivaldi survive (he claimed to have written over 90), complete recordings of them are rare, despite the fact that appreciation of his talents as a composer of vocal music has increased considerably in recent years. Any chance to investigate his operatic output should therefore be welcomed, especially when it derives, as this one does, from a staged production with all the gains in dramatic input and insight that brings. And while little evidence has yet emerged to suggest that Vivaldi was a major opera composer, it is inevitable that in so much music by such a fertile and original imagination an occasional gem will turn up.
Such is the case with FARNACE, the opera which Vivaldi composed for the Venetian Carnival season of 1727. The story gives us the King of Pontus, Farnace, defeated in battle by Roman forces under Pompeo, yet in rather greater danger from his mother-in-law Berenice, whose anger at the murder of her husband by Farnace 's father has never subsided. So blind is Berenice's hatred that she is out to kill not only Farnace, but also his wife (her daughter) and son. A further twist is added by the fact that Farnace orders Tamiri to kill herself and the son rather than allow themselves to fall into Roman hands, and cruelly denounces her when she fails to carry out the task. One can hardly say that he comes out of this well, and indeed the opera's most interesting characters are instead Tamiri, nobly bearing rejection by mother and husband alike for sheer love of her son (she was originally sung by Vivaldi's lady friend Anna Giraud), and Berenice, deranged by dreams of revenge. Yet Farnace it is who has the opera's longest and most memorable aria, a horror-struck realisation that his son's (presumed) death has been his own doing, its imagery of blood running cold in the veins reinforced by glacial string-writing and, unmistakably, the opening bars from 'Winter' from The Four Seasons. In general, however, FARNACE cannot be counted a huge dramatic success; while it makes the customary operatic moves, its characters develop Iittle (what Handel might have done with Tamiri and Berenice!) and the music, while attractive and involving as always, misses too many opportunities, sometimes even seeming strangely at odds with the dramatic situation.
Jordi Savall directs with a sure hand, drawing exciting and committed playing from Le Concert des Nations and showing fine control of pace and momentum. The recitatives, so often rattled through in the studio, are much more convincing and natural for being part of a real production, and so too are the arias, with all the singers putting in strong and stylish performances. Top marks for acting go to the gloriously dignified contralto of Sara Mingardo as Tamiri, with Adriana Fernandez's ranting Berenice not far behind, but Furio Zanasi lacks a little in vocal resolve for the stubborn Farnace , and Gloria Banditelli could have offered more artfulness as his resourceful sister Selinda. Sonia Prina and Cinzia Forte both do what needs to be done with their rather conventional trouser roles. The recording, surprisingly resonant for a theatre, is edited together from just two performances, so there are some rough joins…[there is] a handful of numbers from a setting of FARNACE composed for Madrid in 1739 by the Italian-born Francesco Corselli have been stirred into the mix. What these arias, marches and sinfonias - all in a style noticeably later than Vivaldi 's - add to the drama apart from extra minutage, I cannot suggest, unless it be an excuse for Spanish government funding.”
- Lindsay Kemp