Vivaldi: Ottone in villa

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Vivaldi
LABELS: Chandos Chaconne
WORKS: Ottone in villa
PERFORMER: Susan Gritton, Monica Groop, Nancy Argenta, Mark Padmore, Sophie Daneman; Collegium Musicum 90/Richard Hickox
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 0614(2)
Vivaldi’s first opera, Ottone in villa, was composed in 1713 when he was 35 years old. This was a remarkably late debut, especially for a man who later claimed he had written nearly 100 operas. Commissioned by the tiny Teatro di Piazza in Vicenza, it was necessarily small-scale, involving just five singers, a small orchestra, no visual spectacle and a third act that lasts only 26 minutes. In other respects it is a typical Baroque opera, alternating recitatives with solo arias, the latter including such staples of the genre as a storm aria, a jealousy aria and a haunting echo aria.

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Set in the country retreat of the Emperor Ottone, the opera details the comically tangled love-lives of the flirtatious Cleonilla and her ex-lover Caio Silio. Vivaldi’s score is tailored to this frippery; it bristles with energy, exudes breezy charm and contains a handful of truly memorable arias. If Collegium Musicum 90 plays with a brisk efficiency that can seem a touch unyielding, the singing is mostly a delight. Susan Gritton, as the wilful Cleonilla, is excellent, as is Nancy Argenta’s Caio, who is given the most striking arias, from the raging ‘Gelosia’ to the poignant ‘Leggi almeno’. Recommended. Graham Lock