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Don't you just love that Venetian cape?

Vivaldi's opera Farnace premiered in 1727, two years
after his famous The Four Seasons and at a time when
I think the Red Priest was already on some other planet.
There is wonderful inventiveness in this opera. It is
usually described as being in the Lombard style, also
known as the galant style in France, and a forerunner of
the Sturm und Drang style of the early Classical era.
But as far as I can tell so far in my admittedly limited
explorations, I think that Vivaldi pretty much went his
own way.

This is very energetic music (to say the least) and exhibits
great rhythmic complexity and a rather homophonic
orchestration by Baroque standards. There is at least
some repeated use of motifs through the opera, sharing
of material which gives the work a greater unity. And as
Vivaldi shows here and elsewhere he is not adverse to
pushing the harmonic envelope either. It has been said
that one of the main reasons for Vivaldi's downfall as
a composer at the end of his years was that musical
style had left him behind. But that is difficult to
believe, given that there is so much of Farnace that
reminds me of the very popular music of Gluck — and
yet Gluck didn't premier his first opera until 1741, the
year of Vivaldi's death. So perhaps the real case is
that far from being behind the times, Vivaldi was too
far ahead of them.

The recording with Jordi Savall and Le Concert des
Nations on the Naive label is a reissue of an earlier
(and still extant) one on Alia Vox, except without
all the extra bullshit by the composer Corselli
thrown into it. The Naive issue is pure Vivaldi.
And it's also a lot cheaper.

For the most part Savall does a great job with the
work. And in fact I've been an admirer of his for
a good while now. But I wouldn't say this would be my
ideal performance. The title role of Farnace in the
Savall recording is given to a baritone. But Vivaldi
originally scored the role for a contralto en travesti
— which today is usually performed by a countertenor
or a mezzo-soprano. While it makes no difference from
a dramatic point of view, I think that the arias sound
much more beautiful in the higher range that Vivaldi
intended. I also had a problem with contralto Sonia
Prina, who on "Sorge L'Irato Nembo" — the second best
aria of the opera — can't seem to synch with the
orchestra. Fortunately it is such an amazing aria that
her inability to keep up with Savall's breakneck tempo
only slightly diminishes its power and beauty.

There are also a couple of printing and programming
mistakes on this set. The cast list on the booklet
that comes with the CD was in error. Because of which
Naive thoughtfully provided an erratum page, whose
chief function it seems is to fall out every time I
pick up the booklet. More serious perhaps is that
the track info sewn into the CDs themselves is
wrong or non-existent played on Windows Media Player,
If you want to be certain of things, be sure to use
the track listing in the booklet. Which they actually
got right.

There are a couple of other recordings of Farnace
available out there. So somewhere down the road I
might check those out too and get a real mezzo as
Farnace.