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If you regard The Four Seasons as Vivaldi’s greatest hit, think again: you clearly haven’t heard “Sol da te” (“Only from you”) from Orlando furioso, one of the many baroque operas inspired by Ariosto’s tale of love and sorcery. This balmy aria, garlanded by decorative flute, is Ruggiero’s unwitting response to Alcina’s love-potion, and it administers a spell of its own. It was radiantly sung here by the young French counter-tenor Philippe Jaroussky, with an equally entrancing flute obbligato from Alison Mitchell.
“Sol da te” brought the house down, but it was merely the apex of a performance that turned into one long succession of thrills and trills. Opera in concert was one of the consistent delights of the Edinburgh International Festival under Brian McMaster; by going back to the baroque, an era McMaster ignored, the incoming festival director Jonathan Mills has cut his own distinctive path, while astutely capitalising on the wave of southern European talent now invigorating the period movement.
Vivaldi is known almost exclusively for his instrumental music; only recently have his operas begun to be reassessed. On the evidence of this performance – conducted with missionary energy and temperament, and bags of style, by Jean-Christophe Spinosi – Vivaldi the theatre composer deserves to be ranked on a par with Handel, whose own Ariosto-inspired operas are among his finest. Alcina’s Act Two aria “Così potessi”, all inward reflection, has the stamp of greatness; so too do the lengthy dramatic recitatives declaimed by the title character. As for bravura display, Orlando furioso (Venice, 1727) is carnival time for everyone.
It is a festival piece par excellence, and Edinburgh’s cast was of festival standard. Sonia Prina may not be the most beautiful-toned Orlando, but she has the notes, the fiendish range and the swashbuckling vocal style: you believe in her. Judging by her Alcina, Jennifer Larmore’s new slimline look has dusted some of the plushness from her voice, but the artistry remains. Veronica Cangemi was the sparkling Angelica, Barbara di Castri a truthful Bradamante. Even Christian Senn’s Astolfo had his share of fireworks. Spinosi brought the very best out of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Chorus – no mean feat for a baroque specialist accustomed to working with his own band.
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