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Vivaldi: Ercole sul Termodonte
Hercules reborn! Rolando Villazón and Joyce DiDonato lead a dazzling cast in Vivaldi’s opera Ercole sul’Termodonte, first heard in Rome in 1723 and reconstructed by conductor Fabio Biondi from the original libretto, historical scores and his intimate knowledge of the composer.
Like the mythical Hercules, hero of this opera by Vivaldi, dynamic tenor Rolando Villazón has triumphed over some huge challenges, including an operation in 2009 on his vocal cords.
In this, his first complete studio recording of an opera for Virgin Classics, he takes on the title role of Hercules (Ercole), whose mission is to obtain the belt of the Amazon queen Hippolyta (Ippolita). She is portrayed by Joyce DiDonato, whose Virgin Classics album of Handel, ‘Furore’, gave ample evidence of both her seductive powers and her intrepid spirit in Baroque music. Completing the cast is a dazzling line-up of virtuoso star singers: Diana Damrau, Vivica Genaux, Philippe Jaroussky, Patrizia Ciofi, Romina Basso and Topi Lehtipuu.
The conductor is Italian Baroque specialist Fabio Biondi, directing his group Europa Galante. His Virgin Classics recording of Vivaldi’s opera Bajazet, nominated for a Grammy, won multiple awards including the Grand Prix de l'Académie du Disque Lyrique in France, an ECHO Award in Germany and a Midem Classical Award. It also received the highest praise from publications such as Le Monde de la Musique, Diapason, Classica-Répertoire, Opéra International, Pizzicato, Opera News and Gramophone, which said: “Fabio Biondi and his players bring out countless nuances in the score with their usual array of interpretative devices ranging from gentle cello chords in recitative to sparky off-beat accents and pizzicati, and even some acid sul ponticello. There could hardly be a better way to bring this opera to life.”
Biondi himself brought the score back to life, reconstructing it for performance in Venice in 2007, and subsequently in Paris in 2009. No autograph score or contemporary copy of the opera was in existence, but Biondi worked from the libretto printed for the first performances in Rome in 1723. He was then able to identify various arias from other Vivaldi scores kept in libraries around Europe, principally in France and Germany. In many cases, he also orchestrated the arias, extrapolating from their musical substance and his intimate knowledge of Vivaldi’s practice. Where no source existed for an aria or chorus, he reconstructed the music by adapting and borrowing from other works by Vivaldi. He also composed all the recitatives.
As Biondi explains: “This opera occupies a special and emblematic position in Vivaldi’s life. At the age of 45, he took the risk of presenting an opera in Rome for the first time … Ercole proved a resounding success … The city was full of talk about this opera which, by introducing a new musical style, seemed to revolutionise a genre much loved in the Eternal City. His melodic invention, his bel canto lyricism, rhythmic impulse and colourful instrumentation captured the imagination of music lovers.”
“Villazón looms large in the title role of the Vivaldi opera here so vividly captured on disc...In vocal colour and style [he] always stands apart from his vocal colleagues. He’s louder and broader, less bothered about immaculate pitch...[yet] a jolting mix of vocal styles at least fits the score...the absence of weighty matter in no way diminishes the music’s brilliance” The Times, 6th December 2010 ****
“The secret here is Vivaldi's score, given a wonderfully energised performance by a cast of megastars...The Venetian composer is ubiquitously popular for his Four Seasons but his operas, making a gradual comeback, so far remain specialist territory.” The Observer, 19th December 2010
“Joyce DiDonato is compelling as the passionate Hippolyta, her 'Onde chiare' especially beguiling. Vivica Genaux is splendid in the role of the warrior-queen Antiope, presenting her credentials with confrontational fervour...Lively, incisive and stylish instrumental playing by Europa Galante provide sympathetic rapport with the voices.” BBC Music Magazine, January 2011 *****
“Amongst several strong vocal performances, Joyce DiDonato's is the one to cherish, especially her exquisite 'Onde chiare che sussurrate'. Rolando Villazón as Hercules is on dramatically good form...Biondi's orchestral interpretation is a flowing one...but the rhythmic vitality is still most present...it's worth the money for DiDonato's fabulous performance alone.” Classic FM Magazine, February 2011 ****
“it is exciting to hear a Baroque opera sung by an almost entirely high-class cast (only the threadbare Patrizia Ciofi is below par)...Villazón is suitably larger than life as Hercules; he gets around tricky coloratura passages and embellishes with unbridled bravado...spirited gusto is certainly the order of the day from Europa Galante.” Gramophone Magazine, March 2011
“As the first stage work that Vivaldi wrote in Rome, scholars find the score of exceptional musicological interest; the rest of us will find it an entertaining parade of shortish arias contrasting in mood, rich in melody and full of energy, in a performance that could hardly be bettered.” The Telegraph, 4th February 2011 ****
“DiDonato is first among equals in this star-studded recording: Vivica Genaux's dazzlingly sung, resinous Antiope is well contrasted with the plush, voluptuous alto of Romina Basso's Teseo, whilst Patrizia Ciofi and Diana Damrau's gleaming bright sopranos are easily distinguishable as Orizia and Martesia...Biondi and his Europa Galante are, as ever, live wires 'in the pit'” International Record Review, March 2011
BBC Music Magazine
Opera Choice - January 2011
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Vivaldi: Ercole sul Termodonte
Marina Bartoli (Ippolita), Laura Cherici (Martesia), Mary Ellen Nesi (Antiope/Diana), Luca Dordolo (Alceste), Zachary Stains (Ercole), Randall Scotting (Teseo), Filippo Mineccia (Telamone)
Il Complesso Barocco, Alan Curtis
Usually despatched in 2 - 3 working days.