The release of Catone in Utica marks the midway point in Naïve’s 25 year project: the Vivaldi Edition series. Ann Hallenberg, Sonia Prina, and other stars of the Baroque music world have been assembled under the baton of Alan Curtis, accompanied by Il Complesso Barocco.
Following on from the successes of La fida ninfa, Bajazet and Adelaide, Vivaldi produced this stunning opera as the finale to his time at the Teatro dell’Accademia Filarmonica. He assembled a diverse cast including a local tenor, Cesare Grandi, as Catone, the soprano castrato Giacomo Zaghini as Cesare, and Anna Girò, one of his most faithful collaborators, as Marzia. The result was a stunning opera of which Prince Charles Albert wrote that “Everything gave undiminished delight.” Only acts two and three ofCatone in Utica survive in the archives of the Biblioteca Nationale in Turin. For this recording, Alan Curtus and Alessandro Ciccolini have painstakingly reconstructed act one.
The star of the CD must surely be Swedish mezzo-soprano Ann Hallenberg. Her portrayal of the fiendish role of Emilia is outstanding, both vocally and with respect to characterisation. Hallenberg’s rendition of "O nel sen di qualche stella" is a masterclass in the art of singing. Hallenberg’s rich mezzo blossoms at the top of her range, with never a hint of shrillness, while the low register is full and warm. Listen out for the stunning multiple Bb3’s (Baroque Pitch) in the A section. Her thirst for vengeance in the B section is chilling, and the virtuosity of the extended staccato ornamentation on the word “tiranno” is without parallel.
"Come invano il mare irato" sees Hallenberg sail through over two octaves of Vivaldi’s glorious music, from G3 to B5. The unbelievable virtuosity of the endless runs in the da capo, and the magnificent A Capella C6 in the cadenza, are just two of the many highlights of the aria. Hallenberg utterly dominates the music, showing no fear while being totally immersed in the music. It is clear from this recording that she is one of the finest singers on the world stage today.
Roberta Mameli’s Cesare is something of a revelation. In “Vaga sei nè sdegni tuoi” Mameli relishes the relentless pace of Vivaldi’s tempestuous aria. Her repeated notes in the da capo are perfectly executed: a truly unbelievable performance. In "Se in campo armato", Cesare throws down the gauntlet to Catone in this coloratura-laden aria. Mameli interpolates some exciting staccato ornamentation in da capo.
Another side of Cesare’s character is seen in "Apri le luci e mira." Mameli’s pure lyric soprano weaves a hunting and hypnotic spell in this devastating expression of Cesare’s love. The B section contains some voluptuous vocal writing by Vivaldi, particularly on the extended phrases on the word “fiamma.” "Se mai senti spirarti sul volto lieve" is a much lighter expression of love, and one which, particularly in the A section, presages Mozart. Mameli’s phrasing in this aria is utterly sublime.
The rest of the assembled cast produced some very strong singing. Topi Lehtipuu’s Catone is both energetic and engaging, while Sonia Prina’s Marzia is a delight: full of warmth in the chest register, and desplaying her trademark lightning coloratura in "Se parto, se resto". Romina Basso’s Fulvio was full of fury in "L'ira mia, bella sdegnata", bringing tangible vitriol to the aria, while Emőke Baráth’s Arbace was highly emotional and full of anguish. The accompaniment from Il Complesso Barocco was outstanding, with some surprisingly fierce direction from Alan Curtis.