Argippo, Vivaldi Emőke Baráth (Argippo), Marie Lys (Osira), Delphine Galou (Zanaida), Marianna Pizzolato (Silvero), Luigi De Donato (Tisifaro), Europa Galante, c. Fabio Biondi. Naïve OP 7079 (two CDs) Following on closely from a superb Tamerlano, Naïve’s Vivaldi Edition continues to tidy up the operas with another pasticcio. First performed in Vienna in 1730 and heard later the same year at the Teatro Sporck in Prague in a slightly different version, Argippo survived only in the form of printed librettos. However, the discovery of an anonymous untitled manuscript in Darmstadt, together with a set of arias housed in Regensburg, has enabled the present reconstruction, based on the Prague version. The result is a three-act dramma per musica that includes nine arias either by or probably by Vivaldi, along with arias by the Venetian composers G.B. Pescetti and A. Galeazzi, the Milanese Andrea Fiorè (whose own Argippo was given in Milan in 1722), and the rather better-known Hasse, Porpora and Vinci.
The libretto’s weakness is not the only reason Argippo makes considerably less of an impression than Tamerlano. With the exception of a pair of arias for Zanaida, one in each act, the overall quality of the arias in the first two acts is not high, those by Pescetti and Galeazzi in particular being conventional. Not until the dramatic peak of Act 3 do things really spark into life, with successive and highly contrasted arias for the confused Osira, the first (by Pescetti) gracious and flowing, as she senses the oppression she has felt is diminishing, the second (the borrowed Fiorè aria, ‘Vado a morire’) a deeply touching lamentation as she goes to meet the death sentence imposed on her by Tisifaro in revenge for her husband’s past ‘crime’.
The libretto, by Domenico Lalli, was first set as Il gran mogol by Francesco Mancini for Naples in 1713. As the original title suggests, it was one of a growing number of operas set in India, demonstrating a preference articulated by writers such as Algarotti for opera seria to be set in colourful, exotic locations that to at least some degree distracted attention from the genre’s less natural elements. In the case of Argippo the title shifts the focus from the Great Mogul himself (Tisifaro) to Argippo, a tributary king. He is the supposed villain of the piece, a man believed to have stolen the virginity of Tisifaro’s daughter Zanaida, married her and then gone off to commit bigamy with another princess, Osira. The book is pretty poor stuff, with a denouement that defies credibility by having Zanaida contentedly marry Silvero, the Great Mogul’s cousin and the man that really raped her.
Despite some good singing the performance feels flat, never achieving the startling dramatic immediacy that informed Tamerlano (and Il Giustino, 2018). Comparison might be invidious, but it is also inevitable and it now surely has to be recognized that the bar Ottavio Dantone has set in this repertoire is exceptionally high. Here only Delphine Galou’s vividly projected Zanaida provides any real hint of the drama of the Dantone performances, unsurprising given that Galou played a major role in both. One need listen only to the intensity of her recitative to be aware that it is substantially more meaningful than that of any other member of the cast. Marie Lys’s Osira rises splendidly to the two arias mentioned above, the drooping phrases of ‘Vado a morire’ falling graciously and movingly, while she produces a fine trill at the final cadence, but elsewhere her bright, finely-edged top notes are less pleasing, particularly when forced in unnecessarily vulgar ornamentation. As might be expected
Opera, May 2021