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Vivaldi – La Senna Festeggiante

Freiburg Baroque Orchestra - Directed by Ivor Bolton

St John's Smith Square 22 May 2006


The Golden Age - Roberta Invernizzi – soprano

Virtue - Barbara Di Castri – mezzo soprano

La Senna - Antonio Abete - bass


A Serenata is a piece of music designed to be enjoyed under a calm night sky, the culmination of a day of celebration when the audience is ready to relax and enjoy some wonderful music and singing without being taxed by a complicated plot. In the 18th century an allegory was the obvious subject to choose, in this case the River Seine welcoming the return of The Golden Age and Virtue to its shores, and Vivaldi peppers his score with stylistically French trimmings.


There doesn't seem to be any general consensus about the specific event being celebrated, other than it relates to the accession of Louis XV to the throne of France and probably follows his appointment of an ambassador to Ve nice after a period of break in diplomatic relations. It has also been suggested that the work was written for performance somewhere other than in Ve nice .


This uncertainty stems from the fact only an incomplete copy of the manuscript has so far come to light, which generates a number of open queries for performance.


Vivaldi (RV693) is uncharacteristically vague about the make up of the orchestra, asking for one or two oboes and one or two flutes, and then leaving them sitting for pages on end with nothing to play. Some conductors have adopted the practice of “doubling them up” with the string parts, but Ivor Bolton chose to leave well alone, giving more impact to the sound of the flute as it finally emerges to illustrate “you will see the sun with his shining rays appear” in Virtue's last aria.


There is also an untidy gap almost at the end of the piece. Again, opinion seems to vary on what is missing. Some suggest that an additional bass aria was deliberately removed in order for it to be incorporated into another work. Others believe that just a couple of pages broke away from the binding, truncating a long passage of recitative. The libretto in the programme contained extra text devised by Carlo Vitali to plug the gap (to be accompanied by extra music supplied by Robert King for his excellent Hyperion recording*) but the complete section was struck through and omitted on this occasion.


And an occasion it was too – marking a fitting final evening to the Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music. Ivor Bolton drew brisk and stylish playing from the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra, and made much of the French character of the Ouverture to the second part.


The three soloists have ample opportunity to show off their talents. Roberta Invernizzi, as The Golden Age, has the opening solo which imitates the song of a nightingale, which she floated right up into the rafters of the church. Throughout she produced fine clarity of tone and nicely characterised singing, communicating constantly with her audience – here was a Golden Age in sprightly mood with more than touch of humour.


Virtue seems to have a stiffer air about her which Barbara Di Castri recognised, and managed to impart even into her most fiercely coloratura passages. A certain amount of vibrato and her tendency to keep her head buried in the score detracted from her performance and prevented her from projecting the notes to maximum effect.


Vivaldi obviously intended the bass title role to be the star of the show, and must have been writing for a particular singer of exceptional vocal agility who could cope with a span of more than two octaves, some exceptionally low notes and startling leaps. Antonio Abete appeared to take it all in his stride, and brought out all the subtleties in the musical interpretation of the text – painting a wonderful picture of the wavy and weed-covered bottom of the river.


An excellent performance and a very festive end to a Festival.



Serena Fenwick



* CD recommendation: Vivaldi La Senna Festeggiante and Gloria e Imeneo – Carolyn Sampson, Hilary Summers, Tuva Semmingsen, Andrew Foster-Williams, The Kings Consort dir Robert King. Hyperion CDA67361/2 (2 CDs) recorded 2002.

© Peter Grahame Woolf