L’Olimpiade: The Opera

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COMPOSERS: Caldera; Cimarosa; Galuppi; Gassmann; Piccini; Hasse; Jommelli; Sarti; Cherubini; Paisiello; Vivaldi
LABELS: NAIVE
ALBUM TITLE: L’Olimpiade: The Opera
WORKS: Caldera: ‘Grande, e ver, son le tue pene’; Cherubini: ‘Se cerca, se dice: “L’amico dov’e”‘?; Cimarosa: ‘Non so donde viene’; Galuppi: ‘Quel destrier, che all’albergo e vicino’; ‘Gemo in un punto, e fremo’; Gassmann: ‘Ne’ giorno tuoi felici’; Myslivecek: ‘Del destin non vi lagnate’; Piccini: ‘Caro, son tua cosi’
PERFORMER: Romina Basso, Franziska Gottwald (mezzo-soprano), Karina Gauvin, Ruth Rosique (soprano), Nicholas Spanos (countertenor), Nicholas Spanos (countertenor); Venice Baroque Orchestra/Markellos Chryssicos
CATALOGUE NO: V5295

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Olympic fever has gripped even performers of Baroque opera – but this disc earns at best a bronze. Adapting Metastasio’s libretto Olimpiade, the Venice Baroque Orchestra has made its own pastiche of musical numbers drawn from some of the text’s 56 18th-century settings. While pasticcio were standard on the Baroque stage, they typically contained music by no more than six composers, chosen fastidiously for fit.

Here, the director juxtaposes airs from 16 Olimpiades composed between 1733 and 1783. Instead of an opera, we get a composition competition in which the charms of the winners – notably Antonio Caldara, Vivaldi, Pergolesi, Niccolò Piccinni and Niccolò Jommelli – cannot redeem the banality of the losers, especially Hasse.

Within individual numbers the performances can be thrilling. Directed by Markellos Chryssicos, the band nimbly negotiates the huge range of effects demanded by this composite score. Their emotional contrasts – varied and credible – are led by lutenist Ivano Zanenghi. Mezzo-soprano Franziska Gottwald is spellbinding in Vivaldi’s ‘Mentre dormi’, combining tenderness, warm timbres and awesome pianissimos. Sprightly and silver-toned, Ruth Rosique tosses off Tommaso Traetta’s fioritura with courtly ease, while weaving her line elegantly around that of her air’s obbligato instruments. Against such poise, the weaknesses of tenor Nicholas Phan stick out, especially in Domenico Cimarosa’s ‘Non sò donde viene’, where Phan becomes strident and out of tune. Another gaffe is the microphone placement, which distances soloists from each other. While recordings of hitherto unheard music are welcome, some could use a workout in historical awareness before they compete in the main arena.

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Berta Joncus