Vivaldi’s Orlando furioso of 1714 – not to be confused with his later masterpiece of the same name – has until recently been a victim of mistaken identity. Long thought to have been the work of his contemporary Giovanni Alberto Ristori, it is now apparent that the music is by Vivaldi. Only two of the opera’s three acts have survived, however, and they required a significant degree of reconstruction by the conductor of this performance, Federico Maria Sardelli. He has wisely resisted recreating a third act from extraneous material from other Vivaldian sources. The issues are complex, but Sardelli discloses his meticulous methods in an illuminating essay.
Orlando furioso was premiered at Venice’s Teatro Sant’Angelo where Vivaldi was impresario. Grazio Braccioli’s skilfully constructed libretto is based on events in Ariosto’s heroic epic poem Orlando furioso. It features enchantments, deceit, seduction and madness, though the incipient symptoms of insanity become apparent only at the very end of the second act. Sardelli’s reconstruction is thoroughly convincing and he has assembled a first-rate cast to prove it. Several arias are taken from other operas, while there are plenty more belonging to Orlando that are of instant appeal. The high water-mark for me is Astolfo’s ‘Ah, fuggi rapido’ (Act II), a scintillating B flat aria sung with brilliant athleticism and engaging warmth by Roberta Mameli. Notwithstanding incompleteness, this is one of the most rewarding performances in the Naïve Vivaldi opera survey.