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Vivaldi Orlando finto pazzo
Antonio Abete, Gemma Bertagnolli, Manuela Custer, Marina Comparato, Marianna Pizzolato, Martín Oro, Sonia Prina.
Academia Montis Regalis, Turin Teatro Regio Chorus/Alessandro de Marchi

Naive Opus111 CD OP30392
[Released: June 2004, 3 Discs, 207 mins]
AmazonUK price: £26

This mid-price release has all the versatility one can hope for with CDs. Opus111 is trawling Vivaldi's stage works (over twenty planned for their Vivaldi Edition) and the history of his 1714 Venetian opera is obscure. First: about the lavish presentation, a boxed set with a trilingual booklet running to 130 pages. The introduction deals with the paradox of a favourite composer who devoted the main part of has career to opera, those completed overlooked until very recently because of the success of his concertos.

Orlando finto pazzo was 'a dissident artistic project, asserting his mastery of tradition and fierce thirst for innovation' (Frederic Delamea). The new critical edition is described in detail by its editor, Allesandro Borin. Seeking maximum theatrical effect, the conductor supplied cadenzas and ornaments but left his singers free to improvise, "tolerating egocentrism', which contributes to the liveliness and immediacy of the performance. Some of the arias are well over the top, and negotiated with impressive skill, the singers relishing their vocal virtuosity. The music is mostly fast to very fast, and clearly enjoyed by the uninhibited young Italian cast and eager period instrument musicians.

The plot is dauntingly elaborate, with magic and cross-dressing, and many listeners will be reasonably tempted to skip at first hearing some of the long tracts of recitative, their text provided in parallel translations. There are also included nine arias in alternative versions.

Rather than taking the other possible approach, and opting for drastic cutting, Opus111 has gone for scholarly completeness and offers the encouragement of mid-price release for a set which might well have qualified for full price. So these are CDs for patience and tolerance towards the conventions of the time; or otherwise an opera to hear with the finger on the forward button to move to the next aria's track when you feel ready.

It would probably do well on a DVD of a simple, stylish stage production (not too clever nor updated; one like Muti's Pergolesi at the Scala). It is much easier to sort out the characters in 18 C Italian opera if you can see the singers and follow subtitles. DVDs are getting cheaper to produce, so maybe this is something for Opus111 to think about as their Vivaldi Edition progresses?

© Peter Grahame Woolf