Andromeda Liberata, Barbican, London

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Fans of Vivaldi's "Gloria" and The Four Seasons are waking up to the fact that he was as prolific a composer of operas as Handel. In this, they're not far behind the performers: European ensembles - perhaps judiciously - have been equally slow to reacquaint themselves with the Venetian's operas.

Fans of Vivaldi's "Gloria" and The Four Seasons are waking up to the fact that he was as prolific a composer of operas as Handel. In this, they're not far behind the performers: European ensembles - perhaps judiciously - have been equally slow to reacquaint themselves with the Venetian's operas.

Still, 18th-century scholars - HC Robbins Landon and Jonathan Keates among them - have always realised the potential riches to be unearthed, as have the Italians since the composer Gian Francesco Malipiero restored Vivaldi and other Italian Baroque masters in the 1920s. But recently the sizzling Savaria Baroque Ensemble from Hungary only produced a lacklustre revival of Vivaldi's Il Tigrane (Armenian shenanigans from Nero's time) at St James's in Piccadilly.

Andrea Marcon's Venice Baroque Orchestra, which brought Vivaldi's Andromeda Liberata (whose authorship is partly disputed) to the Barbican, is as deft if not as refined a group but here managed a much better orchestral showing. There was much to admire in the searing strings, the desirable lute playing and some fine oboes and horns. The punters clearly adored it, and thronged to pay £22 for the CD.

You'd think it was Handel. It wasn't. Ultimately, Venice Baroque's over-forceful display proved scarcely better than the (that day) subfusc Hungarians. Why? Because Marcon thundered through most of it like a bull in a china shop. Would Vivaldi really have wanted Czech soprano Katerina Beranova to roar the words "A mother in anguish, I sighed"? Or as wonderful a Yugoslav mezzo as Marijana Mijanovic to deliver "Ruscelletti limpidetti" - "Murmuring streamlets" - like Niagara Falls in spate?

Any fault must lie with the Swiss-trained conductor, whose delivery lacks the finesse he brings to scholarship and ensemble-coordinating: Croatian countertenor Max Emanuel Cencic overcame Perseus's initial Romanesque stolidity to shine in "Sovvente il sole"; Beranova thundered admirably in her own genuinely fiery arias; and Enrico Onofri brought his apt Italian tenor to Daliso's cheerful "Cupid's dart" ditty.

The evening's only revelation was the recently unchained Andromeda, the Leipzig-trained Simone Kermes. Here at last was the loveliness, the sensitivity, the rage and some gorgeous high notes in "Un occhio amabile", "Mi piace e mi diletta" and "Che e fenice", which highlights the opera's links to Venice.

Lastly, the lavatories. The Barbican started the rot, and now the new Covent Garden and - worse still - the new ENO offer only warm water in their washrooms. "It has something to do with the way they're plumbed," ventured Sir John Tusa, the Barbican's general director, when taxed with the question over the bar. Talk about a tepid truism. One expects greater consideration for ticket-buying punters from our finest artistic institutions. Replumb, please, all three.

Comments