- Teuzzone, pasticcio opera in 3 acts, RV 736
"Teuzzone" is an early opera, written in 1719, only five years after Vivaldi's first venture into the field. His developing skill as an opera composer is evident in the music's vivid delineation of the characters and their moods. There isn't much of a dramatic arc to the music of the three acts, but for the listener willing to forego that expectation, the individual moments are wonderfully effective and engaging. The libretto features the standard late Baroque operatic themes of thwarted romance and court intrigue, but it takes place in China, perhaps the first libretto to be set in the Far East. Jordi Savall had led Le Concert des Nations in one previous Vivaldi opera, "Farnace," recorded live in 2001. In this 2011 studio recording, the sound quality is considerably better, and the performances are consistently superb. Le Concert des Nations plays with its accustomed elegance and attentiveness to Savall's nuanced reading. Of the seven roles, Vivaldi only assigns one each to a tenor and a baritone. It's a testimony to the inventiveness and variety of his music (and also to these terrific performances) that the preponderance of high voices isn't wearing. The casting has remarkable depth; even the smallest roles are sung with dazzling technique and tone, and with dramatic acuity. Male soprano Paolo Lopez plays the lead as the prince Teuzzone, a role Vivaldi wrote for a female soprano. He has a powerful, full-bodied, colorful voice with none of the vaporous pallor that once characterized countertenors. This performance puts him securely in the company of distinguished countertenors to emerge early in the 21st century. It's a large role, with seven significant arias and numerous recitatives and ensembles, the most notable of which is the rhapsodic duet, "Que amaro tormento," with the sweet, expressive contralto Delphine Galou. Countertenor Antonio Giovannini has a much smaller part than Lopez, but his voice is no less appealing. As the villainess, mezzo soprano Rafaella Milanesi has a role as large and demanding as the lead's, and she sings with an effortless-sounding coloratura. Roberta Mameli stands out for the warmth and remarkable flexibility of her soprano, and delivers what is probably the most accomplished performance in the outstanding cast. Baritone Furio Zanasi and tenor Makoto Sakurada make very strong, heroic impressions in their relatively minor roles. Naïve's sound is detailed, clean, and spacious, but it feels dramatically static, an ambience more appropriate for oratorio than for opera.