WORKS: Ottone in Villa
PERFORMER: Sonia Prina, Julia Lezhneva, Verónica Cangemi, Roberta Invernizzi, Topi Lehtipuu; Il Giardino Armonico/ Giovanni Antonini
CATALOGUE NO: OP 30493
Ottone in villa, Vivaldi’s first opera, was first performed in Vicenza in May 1713, then revived in Treviso in 1729. The light-hearted libretto by Domenico Lalli is set in a pastoral context, in which love, jealousy, unfaithfulness, rejection, revenge and disguise play their part.
By a quirk of fate, two new recordings have appeared simultaneously. Giovanni Antonini’s version (on Naïve), like that of Richard Hickox (Chandos), follows the performing edition of Eric Cross, while Federico Guglielmo (on Brilliant) has revised one by Vittorio Bolcato for his recording. Both conductors give the opera complete though there are discrepancies between them.
The strangest of them concerns the second aria of Act I which in Guglielmo’s version has been transferred from Caio, in love with Cleonilla, to Cleonilla herself. This gives Cleonilla three consecutive arias, which is almost inconceivable. Caio is sung by a countertenor in Guglielmo’s performance but by a soprano in Antonini’s.
I have been enjoying both recordings for the generally high quality of the singing and instrumental playing. A major attraction of Antonini’s version is the casting of Sonia Prina as Roman Emperor Ottone. Her rounded vocal timbre and powerful declamation bring strong characterisation to the role, though Tuva Semmingsen in the other projects a gentler image of the Emperor which is hardly less appealing.
It is Prina though, along with the remaining dramatis personae, who conveys a more vivid sense of theatre. Antonini complements the dramatic tension with a preference for generally brisker tempos and more sharply defined instrumental articulation than Guglielmo’s marginally more concert-hall approach.
A clear choice between the two performances is far from straightforward for, though I find Antonini more consistently dramatic in its supply pliant pacing, Guglielmo offers an irresistible attraction in the singing of Maria Laura Martorana in the role of Cleonilla. Her clear, slightly fragile-sounding voice well suits the character’s femininity, crucial to the unfolding of events.
Florin Cezar Ouatu is a versatile countertenor who effectively enlivens Caio’s role. Whether you prefer his singing to that of Julia Lezhneva in the rival set will be more to do with personal preference than merit.
The tenor role of Ottone’s confidant, Decio, on the other hand is more persuasively sung by Topi Lehtipuu (Antonini) than by Luco Dordolo.
Ottone in villa contains an abundance of attractive arias, most of them sung with expressive sensibility and effective if restrained ornament. From among them I will single out Caio’s passionately jealous virtuoso aria, ‘Gelosia’ (Act I), his tender ‘L’ombre, l’aure’, and ‘Leggi almeno’ (Act II), Ottone’s ‘Come l’onda’ and ‘Compatisco il tuo fiero tormento’ (Act II), and Tullia’s ‘Due tiranni’ (Act II) ravishingly sung by Roberta Invernizzi. Nicholas Anderson