PERFORMER: Max Emanuel Cencic, Ruxandra Donose, Mary-Ellen Nesi, Ann Hallenberg, Karina Gauvin, Daniel Behle, Emiliano Gonzalez Toro; Coro della Radiotelevisione Svizzera; I Barocchisti/Diego Fasolis
CATALOGUE NO: Virgin 070 9142
The well-travelled and often revived Farnace is plausibly thought to have been Vivaldi’s favourite among his operas. Premiered in Venice, in 1727, it contains some of the composer’s most heady music, and was successful as far afield as Prague. Not in Ferrara, though, where in 1739 the Teatro Bonacossi cancelled Farnace at short notice in favour of a trendier opera by Hasse. Two of its three acts, which Vivaldi revised for Ferrara, are preserved; they form the basis of this recorded version. Act III is a reconstruction by Frédéric Delaméa and Diego Fasolis, based on the 1731 performances given in Pavia.
Antonio Maria Lucchini’s libretto is no masterpiece, but it’s serviceable and provided Vivaldi with psychological scope for character development and vivid word-painting. The action takes place in the kingdom of Pontus, c185 BC where Pharnaces has been defeated by the Romans under Pompey. Reconciliation and the anticipated ‘lieto fine’ (happy ending) follow intrigues, attempted suicide and murderous plots.
Fasolis gives a vibrant account of a fine score with supple rhythms, well-judged tempos and dramatically charged recitative imparting character at every turn. In this version Vivaldi assigns the title role to a mezzo-soprano range. Countertenor Max Emanuel Cencic enlivens it with expressive virtuosity, though the star of the piece, for me, is Karina Gauvin in the role of Gilades, Berenice’s captain. She has one of the most tenderly alluring arias Vivaldi ever wrote, the ‘Scherza l’aura lusinghiera’. Nicholas Anderson