Earlier this year John Yohalem ruminated here on the paucity of Vivaldi operas in the US. “Trove Thursday” attempts a bit of a remedy with a live Motezuma (not a typo) I attended in Paris ten years ago conducted by Alan Curtis with Karina Gauvin, Sonia Prina, Mary-Ellen Nesi, Vito Priante and Ann Hallenberg (as Hernán Cortés!). 

Before Marilyn Horne and Victoria de los Angeles recorded Orlando Furioso in the 1970s, I wonder how many were aware that Vivaldi wrote operas much less had heard one. Matters have changed dramatically since then, particularly due to the “Vivaldi Edition” on Naïve; sadly it’s apparently now defunct before having completed its superb opera series.

Although he claimed to have written many more, scholars have documented around 50 Vivaldi opera, but unfortunately only a small percentage of that oeuvre has survived. Until recently Motezuma was thought to be among the missing; however an incomplete score was exhumed from a Berlin library in 2002.

Violinist and Vivaldi expert Alessandro Ciccolini composed new recitatives and adapted existing arias to arrive at the full edition Curtis recorded in 2005. The Paris concert performance posted here features a cast altogether different from that Archiv CD except for the apparently indispensable Priante in the title role.

Prina, who sang so poorly this past weekend in Ariodante, is in much better form here as Mitrena, the Mexican emperor’s wife, a role composed for Vivaldi’s muse (and possible mistress) Anna Girò. Gauvin, Hallenberg and Nesi (who sings Mitrena on the Curtis Motezuma DVD) also shine; for me the only weak link is Laura Aikin’s Asprano.

A brief baroque fascination about the Spanish invasion produced Vivaldi’s opera although Montezuma’s tragic fate was of course replaced by the required lieto fine (happy ending). My first exposure to an 18th century vision of Mexico came from Richard Bonynge’s LP of highlights from Carl Heinrich Graun’s version which features one of Joan Sutherland’s greatest achievements—the da capo is simply mind-boggling!

A Motezuma by Czech composer Josef Myslive?ek was also recently revived.

I’ve experienced just five Vivaldi operas live including Opera Lafayette’s excellent staging of the two surviving acts of Catone in Utica, but I’m curious to see more. Later this month the Spoleto Festival in Charleston mounts Farnace with Anthony Roth Costanzo.

The fine Czech group Collegium 1704 is currently touring Europe with a production of Arsilda, Regina di Ponto with a cast that includes hilarious Cecilia Bartoli impersonator Kangmin Justin Kim and dreamy bass Lisandro Abadie.

Although they don’t usually provide laughs, Vivaldi’s operas sometimes offer thrills and chills thanks to great singers conquering his near-superhuman vocal demands.

Vivaldi: Motezuma
Theatre des Champs Elysees,
Paris 10 October 2007

Karina Gauvin –Teutile
Sonia Prina — Mitrena
Mary Ellen Nesi — Ramiro
Laura Aikin — Asprano
Ann Hallenberg — Fernando Cortes
Vito Priante — Motezuma

Il Complesso Barocco
Alan Curtis — conductor

To download Motezuma, just click on the icon of a square with an arrow pointing downward on the audio player above and the resulting mp3 file will appear in your download directory.

In addition, more than 60 other “Trove Thursday” podcasts remain available from iTunes (for free!) or via any RSS reader.