Ruth Rosique (Aristea), Roberta Invernizzi (Argene), Romina Basso (Megacle), Franziska Gottwald (Lidia), Mark Tucker (Clistene), Filippo Adami (Aminta), Furio Zanasi (Alcandro)
Venice Baroque Orchestra c. Andrea Marcon p. Dominique Poulange d. Francesco Zito, video director Tiziano Mancini
Dynamic 33545 (210 minutes)
Before watching this DVD, I knew three things about Galuppi: he collaborated with Goldoni, he came from the Venetian lace island of Burano where one can find a fine statue, and he was the subject of one of Robert Browning’s best poems. Dubbed Il Buranello, Galuppi, a prolific and successful figure was no mean operatic innovator. Eight years older than Gluck, he went from writing opera seria to comic opera with more direct dramatic appeal, and considerable formal experiment. L’Olimpiade is one of his earlier offerings, using the template of opera seria familiar to us through Handel - mainly strings of da capo arias - though like Handel he does away with convention if the drama requires it. In general the arias are more substantial than Handel’s and employ a larger, early Haydn-sized orchestra. The libretto by Metastasio was set over one hundred times in the eighteenth century – a staggering statistic - and though it is stock, provides a sturdy framework of emotional conflict for composers and executors to sink their teeth into.
The opera takes a good while to warm up, but the latter half of the first act and the whole of the second are engrossing, the resolutions in the third act are more lyrical and the large arias slow things down, though the exquisitely designed and non-interventionist production becomes more assertive to help things along. The performances are mainly excellent and well contrasted, Ruth Rosique’s creamy tones are an effective foil for Roberta Invernizzi’s more fiery delivery as the manipulated soprano ladies, and the sincere stolid character of Megacle (Romina Basso) trying to do his best by his flightier prince, Licida (Franziska Gottwald) are ardent mezzo travesti suitors. The score’s hit number Se circa, se dice, goes to Megacle, closely mirroring indecisive emotions, and finishing with a furious conclusion that breaks with da capo convention. This is one of the opera’s best sequences, followed by two consecutive spitfire arias for scorned ladies that bring the house down. Both tenors are well contrasted: Mark Tucker imbues the conflicted authoritarian monarch with liquid phrasing and compassion, and Filippo Adami’s terrier-like loyalty is well expressed by his drier, more declamatory approach. Furio Zanasi’s plush baritone sounds a little under-projected as Alcandro; despite sensitive phrasing, some of the role seems a little low for him. There are some acoustic dead spots onstage in the tiny Teatro Malibran which occasionally distract. The Venice Baroque orchestra, directed from the harpsichord by Andrea Marcon, employs highly propulsive, even percussive playing that is often thrilling. One tiny complaint – subtitles disappear in the da capos – given the similar emotional situations and the length of the arias, one can lose the plot, such as it is. Exemplary notes give insights to the score’s new edition; the whole enterprise reveals Galuppi as an expert musical dramatist. As Browning puts it:
Brave Galuppi! that was music! good alike at grave and gay!
I can always leave off talking when I hear a master play!
© Julian Grant 2009