- Montezuma, opera in 3 acts, RV 723
Conductor Jean-Claude Malgoire must be kicking himself pretty hard right now. Several years ago, impatient that no trace of Antonio Vivaldi's only opera set in the New World, "Motezuma," seemed to be turning up, Malgoire cobbled his own version of the work by pulling together a variety of music from other bits and scraps of Vivaldi and fitting it to the extant libretto. Lo and behold, with the rediscovery of the Berliner Singakademie collection in Russia early in this century, the manuscript of "Motezuma" is now a known quantity, and it turns out that Malgoire's concoction bears no resemblance whatsoever to it. Nonetheless, even he has to be grateful that this extraordinary score has been located, and now, recorded by Alan Curtis and Il Complesso Barocco on the Archiv Produktion release Vivaldi: Motezuma. Naturally, it is less than common for even extant vintage 1733 Italian operas to come down in their entirety, and Curtis, working with editor Alessandro Cicciolini, has filled in the blanks with some related material of Vivaldian provenance and composed some fresh recitatives. It all fits together very well, and provides a sense of stylistic continuity, rather than that of pastiche as might normally be expected. None of the singers here are particularly well known, but it is still a first-rate cast; particularly strong is baritone Vito Priante, who has the title role, and as is common in Vivaldi, therefore not very much of the music. Spanish mezzo-soprano Maite Beaumont, who performs the pants role of Fernando (i.e., Hernando Cortez), is a real find, a singer who can perform Vivaldi's sometimes insane vocal acrobatics and yet impart a good deal of characterization to her part. "Motezuma" is rich with features that are exceptional for Baroque opera. In listening to a work of this kind, the music is generally the main point of focus rather than the action or story, as the libretti of most Baroque operas are generally not very compelling. "Motezuma" is different in that one actually is drawn into the tale being told, and Vivaldi supplies an ample amount of text-painting and visualization in his bold, powerful, and rhythmic score. This performance of "Motezuma" is a bit more restrained than Fabio Biondi's 2005 recording of Vivaldi's opera "Bajazet" on Virgin Classics, and while the sheer volume of rapid-fire, virtuosic singing on that incredible set is not as much an ingredient here, the dramatic interest more than makes up for it. Il Complesso Barocco does a great job on all fronts; the natural horns and trumpets used in the Act II battle music for the fight between Motezuma and Fernando is a special treat. Vivaldi's "Motezuma" is a discovery of pressing urgency, as this might well have been his greatest contribution to opera. As an experience for the listener, however, one need not make allowances for the conventions of another era in order to enjoy Archiv's Vivaldi: Motezuma, as the work, performance, and packaging, which includes the complete libretto in English, is perfectly comprehensible and coherent in its own right.