Last night here in Lucca, in our lovely small opera theater “il Giglio”, seating 750 and about 3/4 full, there was a unique show: Tamerlano ovvero Bajazet, by Vivaldi. This is not a freshly-composed opera, but a “pasticcio” that Vivaldi put together using some arias from former operas of him (Semiramide and Farnace) and arias by other composer such as Hasse. The original show runs for about 4 hours, and this is a selection comprising about 2/3 or the original, put together by one of Italy’s leading harpsichordists and early-music conductor, prizewinner Ottavio Dantone. The orchestra had 4+4+2+2+2 strings, 2 oboes that doubled as recorders, a bassoon, an arciliuto and two harpsichords (conductor and continuo).
The music score is lovely, and the instrumental performance was impeccable, in excellent style, perfect tune and well-reharsed sharp attacks.
The male singers were a sopranist, a countertenor and a barytone. The female singers a soprano, a mezzo and a contralto. Three singers were outstanding: the sopranist Federico Florio, the countertenor Filippo MIneccia and the soprano Arianna Vendittelli, though the other three were also excellent. I found the singing a bit too modern, with too much vibrato. certainly not modern opera singing but also, in my opinion, not quite baroque singing either.
Of particular interest to us were the harpsichords: Italian models, about 4-octave range, powerful sound. They were absolutely identical, which made it easy to have both well tuned to each other and also, I suppose, transportation (piling one above the other in a single case).
Dantone conducted from the harpsichord, and when there were slight interruptions due to scene movements without music he would suitably play scales/arpeggios leading seamlessly to the next music in the score. He often played with his right hand, leaving the bass to the continuo players, using the left hand for conducting.
On the large entrance hall there was a table with records on sale (including this same opera by Dantone and company). At the end “Maestro” Dantone went there to sign the copies being sold, and he was kind enough to talk to me for a few minutes.
A delightful evening indeed and a good occasion to hear and meet the great Dantone. Pity they are not frequent here in Lucca, almost exclusively devoted to Romantic opera.