Vivaldi’s Tito Manlio

Tito Manlio

Tito – Carlo Lepore
Manlio – Karina Gauvin
Servilia – Ann Hallenberg
Vitellia – Marina De Liso
Lucio – Roberta Invernizzi
Lindo – Christian Senn
Decio – José Lo Monaco
Geminio – Mark Milhofer

Accademia Bizantina
Ottavio Dantone (harpsichord)

Reviewed by: John T. Hughes

Reviewed: 19 February, 2008
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Ottavio Dantone. Photograph: artistsmanagement.comHow does one present a little-known opera? The Barbican Centre’s management decided not to print a synopsis, thus making it hard to know which of the five female soloists was singing and what each character’s part involved. It took some time to sort out. Yes, there were surtitles, but their function is different. I hope the Barbican will realise that an error was made. Many in the audience certainly did.

Vivaldi’s opera of 1719 concerns Tito, consul of Rome, who condemns his son Manlio to death. Manlio had killed Geminio, lover of Tito’s daughter Vitellia, who cannot forgive her brother. Vitellia in turn is loved by Lucio, leader of the Latins. Servilia and Manlio are reciprocal lovers. The orchestra, conductor and four of the cast have recorded the opera for Naïve.

The writing for the orchestra, here of some 25 players, has many colourful passages, with some arias backed by just a handful of instruments, all creating a fascinating mixture of sounds. Apart from an occasional fluff, the playing of the ‘original’ instruments was very fine. Dantone played a harpsichord during recitatives; another harpsichord joined the orchestral accompaniments in arias.

Accademia Bizantina. Photograph: artistsmanagement.comThere was a fair amount of recitative but also many fine arias, both gentle and bravura. Of the latter, Roberta Invernizzi sang two in the second act, one of which featuring a trumpet obbligato. The other was one of those Metastasian metaphor arias, with rapid utterances of notes, that Vivaldi often wrote. Invernizzi had an earlier aria in the act, a slow one, in which she seemed a touch precious, but in the fast items she was on top form, projecting the voice fully and cleanly. Karina Gauvin, the other soprano, gave a strongly dramatic performance. her rich tone was served by another fine technique, its quality most attractive: a full lyric soprano with body.

Both sopranos sing a male role, but the two main mezzos sing female characters. Of them, Ann Hallenberg produced a warm, enfolding sound, soothing in calm arias and wholly capable in flights of coloratura. She and Gauvin were sonorously entwined in duet. Marina De Liso’s tone was more vibrant, in accord with Vitellia’s vengeful approach to Manlio for killing her beloved. She too sang fluently in ornate passages and voiced Vitellia’s anger effectively without destroying tone or line. Thus we heard four first-class performances from this female quartet.

Carlo Lepore does not possess the lushest of bass voices, the sound at the bottom being somewhat gravelly. The top is freer. Nevertheless he sang cleanly enough, resolute till the final moments that the consul should apply the law, even if the victim was Tito’s own son. Commendably, but for a bass possibly less easily, he sang without resorting to aspirates. His portrayal convinced.

The baritone Christian Senn, as Vitellia’s servant, had his arias mostly ‘below stairs’, music generally simpler than that for his superiors and with a touch of humour (18th-century variety). His tone was clean and smooth. José Lo Monaco, a pencil-slim figure, produced a warm, velvety contralto voice, rather small: bottom notes tended to disappear.

Among the instruments, two horns created an unusual, rasping sound; the oboe accompaniment to that slow aria of Lucio’s was dolefully delightful; and the recorder in Act Three was simply delicious. Dantone brought the right touches of light and shade.

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