Vivaldi's Il Farnace Directed by Marco Gandini
Performed by Mary-Ellen Nesi, Sonia Prina, Roberta Mameli, Magnus Staveland and the Orchestra of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino; conducted by Federico Maria Sardelli.
Vivaldi’s Il Farnace, a work he recast and revised numerous times, revolves around the opposing themes of love and war, loyalty and revenge. The conventions of opera seria, with its set-piece arias of bravura, passion and pathos, throw these psychological tensions into high relief, and Vivaldi responds with music that is here martial and furious, there sensual and graceful.
Musically, this is a convincing performance of a truncated, two-act version: with Act III lost, the opera is suspended mid-drama, without the predictable happy ending. Vivaldi expert Federico Maria Sardelli directs the Orchestra of the Maggio Musicale, Florence, with both precision and panache; he inspires lithe and stylish playing, though the continuo realisation in the recitatives can be rather unyielding. Mary-Ellen Nesi is compelling in the title role, and her gripping account of ‘Gelido in ogni vena’ – a dramatic masterpiece evoking Farnace’s guilt and grief – brings the tragedy to a desolate conclusion. No less captivating is Sonia Prina as Farnace’s wife, Tamiri, torn between maternal love and marital duty (her husband has ordered her to kill their son and then herself to avoid the dishonour of captivity). Soprano Roberta Mameli is a mellifluous Gilade, as beguiling as the nightingale of her aria ‘Quell’usignolo’.
The production, though, falls somewhere between a full staging and a concert performance, many of the singers reading from music stands. The mise en scène features scaffolds and fluorescent tube lighting structures, and the inevitable – and intrusive – projections. It’s a pity, because staged performances of Vivaldi operas are rare these days, and the musicians here cannot be faulted. Kate Bolton‑Porciatti