Vivaldi: Ercole sul Termodonte

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Vivaldi
LABELS: Virgin
WORKS: Ercole sul Termodonte
PERFORMER: Vivica Genaux, Joyce DiDonato, Patrizia Ciofi, Diana Damrau, Rolando Villazón, Romina Basso, Philippe Jaroussky; Europe Galante/Fabio Biondi
CATALOGUE NO: 694 5450

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Ercole sul Termodonte is a well-prepared pasticcio put together by Vivaldi from his own works and first performed in Rome in 1723. The plot is simple and effective: four Greek warriors and their leader, Hercules, defeat four Amazons, Hippolyta, Orithya, Martesia and their queen Antiope, but not before hostages are taken on both sides.

Hippolyta and the Greek hostage Theseus fall in love, as eventually do Martesia (herself taken hostage) and the Greek Alceste, somewhat to the disappointment of his fellow warrior Telamon who has also offered her his hand in marriage. Finally Hercules triumphs when he captures Antiope’s sword and girdle as trophy.

Even by Vivaldi’s standards the score is a rich one, and this version presented by Fabio Biondi contains no less than 27 arias. The two principal castrato roles, Theseus and Alceste, are admirably sung respectively by Romina Basso and Philippe Jaroussky. Basso appropriately comes across as the more passionate of the two warriors.

This side to his character plays a vital part in the drama and is well illustrated by his ‘Occhio che il sol rimira’, its wide-ranging compass and wide intervals demonstrating Basso’s accomplished technique. Alceste’s ‘Quella beltà’ also makes technical demands with a wide compass and some striking modulations. Jaroussky does this considerable justice though not without a hint of strain in the uppermost reaches. Yet he enlivens his ‘Sento con qual diletto’ and ‘Io sembro appunto’ with commendable virtuosity. 

Joyce DiDonato is compelling as the passionate Hippolyta, her ‘Onde chiare’ especially beguiling. Vivica Genaux is splendid in the role of warrior queen Antiope, presenting her credentials with confrontational fervour in ‘Con aspetto lusinghiero’.

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Among many other delights are Martesia’s ‘Un sguardo, un vezzo, un riso’, a forward-looking piece in minuet rhythm, sung affectingly by Diana Damra, and Hercules’s heroic ‘Non fia della vittoria’ sung with bravado somewhat at the expense of finesse by Rolando Villazón. Lively, incisive and stylish instrumental playing by Europa Galante provide sympathetic rapport with the voices, offering a very high level of musical enjoyment all round. Nicholas Anderson