Review of the Teatro Comunale di Ferrara 2021-22: Farnace
(Photo: Marco Caselli)
In 1739, Vivaldi complained in a letter to his patron, the Marquis Guido Bentivoglio, of the treatment he had suffered from the directors of the Teatro Bonacossi in Ferrara: “My reputation has been flogged… have prepared again especially for the ‘business in accordance with written agreements … I will not tolerate such breaches.
The theater’s decision may seem odd, given that “Farnace” was one of the composer’s most popular operas, having received numerous covers since its premiere at the Teatro Sant’Angelo in Venice in 1727. However, the theater’s decision had not been taken. on artistic grounds. On the contrary, Vivaldi, who was an ordained priest, had clashed with Cardinal Ruffo, whose sensibilities had been offended by strong rumors of the composer’s intimate relationship with singer Anna Girò, and subsequently banned the performance.
Vivaldi made some significant changes to Ferrara’s score, which amounted to a complete overhaul of the existing arias and recitatives, as well as the addition of eight new arias, although it is unknown whether he finished. the task because only the first two of the three acts was found. It’s possible that Act Three was lost or, due to Ruffo’s intervention, Vivaldi simply abandoned the review. Either way, the version was put aside and he was never to see it played. He died two years later in Vienna.
Now, 283 years later, the Teatro Comunale de Ferrara has brought this revised version of “Farnace” back to the city for which it was written, albeit in its truncated form. There was no attempt to transfer or reconstruct an act three from an earlier version, as Diego Fasolis did for his excellent 2011 recording.
Act two ends with Farnace, King of Pontus, discovering that his son was not killed as he ordered, and some sort of reconciliation takes place, but he rejects his wife for not killing herself. as well as their son. This leaves huge questions unanswered as to what will happen to Farnace, his son, his wife and his country now, and without the lie to the act three fine, a negative impression of Farnace’s behavior. as cruel and selfish is inevitable. However, audiences are now used to the dramas ending without it all being perfectly concluded, allowing their own imaginations to speculate on what might be. In this regard, then, the loss of act three did not prove to be too damaging to the theatrical experience at all.
Solid direction with composer’s own input
Marco Bellussi, in charge of the production, was assisted by set designer Matteo Paoletti Franzato, costume designer Carlos Tieppo and lighting designer Marco Cazzola. Together they created an atmospheric presentation that captured the violence, deep hatreds and bitterness that underlie the drama. The stage was for the most part fairly empty, sitting for long periods of time on a large table or platform in the center with only an occasional prop, like a chair or mirror. Everything was very basic, but effective in drawing attention to the interaction between the characters.
Dark lighting has been used sensitively to create a dark and heavy atmosphere, with the addition of occasional colored lights on the back frieze to provide the necessary contrast, to ensure that the visual effect is never monotonous.
The costumes were not specific to the time, although they were reminiscent of the ancient world. In addition, they were very pleasant to watch. They were colorful, imaginative, and most importantly, they successfully reflected the status and personality of the characters.
Bellusi was guided by Vivaldi’s own directing instructions and performance notations for singers which have been preserved in the Ferrara manuscript. This provided the production with elements of historical performing practices, apparent in the occasional use of exaggerated poses, but the overall aesthetic was that of a modern presentation.
Bellusi’s imaginative use of static poses for supporting actors provided an added visual dimension, while also highlighting important elements of the relationship between the characters. The scenes were balanced and well-constructed and successfully conveyed the drama, with Selinda’s seductive scenes being particularly effective.
A formidable performance by Pe
There were a number of very good vocal performances, most notably from countertenor Raffaele Pe who was formidable in the role of Farnace. Her singing was clear and powerful, detailed and expressive. However, it was his ability to capture Farnace’s complex character as an energetic and brash leader, captive of his own sense of honor and strong emotions that stood out.
The recitatives were expertly crafted to underline his determination, and his arias brought out the depth of Farnace’s passions. In his first aria “Ricordati che sei”, he reminds his wife of her duties as a queen. Singing with force and energy, he wielded the vocal line in such a way as to infuse it with an abundance of detail, full of embellishments in which his agile coloring sparkled.
In the aria “Perdona o figlio e fremo”, Farnace, realizing that his son is still alive, asks forgiveness, for which he produced a sensitive interpretation coating his long lines with sincere pain. While in “Gemo in un punto e fremo” his vocal agility is once again brilliantly showcased as he allows emotions to run wild in a long passage of flowery vocal delusions, supported by fine vocal control.
Strong support distribution
Mezzo-soprano / contralto Chiara Brunello gave an expressive performance as Tamiri, in which the bewitching soft textures and dark colors of her voice caught the eye. The recitatives have been cleverly designed and purposefully delivered, allowing for the development of compelling relationships with the other characters, especially Farnace.
The tunes were well sung. His opening aria “Comabattono quest’alma” received a passionate interpretation in which his ability to characterize Tamiri’s anxiety and horror of having to kill her son was clearly on display. Towards the end of the first act, she confronts Pompeo and makes fun of him in the tune “Or di Roma forti eroi”. Singing with a confident air in his voice, this allowed Brunello to show off his well-formed phrasing with its subtle dynamic and colorful contrasts.
Soprano Francesca Lombardi Mazzulli was excellent as the captain of Berenice’s army, Gilade. She possesses a strong and agile voice which she skillfully employed to characterize her role. Moreover, it was a performance that emphasized the quality of his singing with three beautifully delivered tunes, the most impressive of which was “Quell’usignolo che innamorato”, which meditates on the cruelty of unrequited love, using a nightingale as a metaphor. Each line was beautifully designed, full of subtle dynamic and colorful inflections, its imitation of the nightingale being exquisitely painted with soft coloring and bird-like trills. The recitatives were also performed.
Elena Biscuola produced a clearly defined reading of Berenice. She was vicious, ruthless and determined to take revenge on Farnace. However, although she produced a strong and colorful vocals presentation, her vocal characterization was compromised by a weakness in the upper register, and her vocal line emphasis lacked crispness and vitality, which cushioned the impact, to the extent that they sometimes sounded one. – rhythmic, even mechanical. The recitatives were well constructed and supported by strongly expressed emotions.
Tenor Leonardo Cortellazzi gave an authoritative performance as Pompeo, capturing the statesman’s dignity and air of superiority. His song was expressive, while still exuding a degree of elegance and grandeur worthy of his rank as a Roman general. His vocals were loud across the scale and his phrasing was beautifully woven, which he illustrated nicely in his air “Non trema senza stella” which ended act one. Against a background of lively orchestral accompaniment, he subtly embellished the vocal line and deployed a pleasant coloratura in an energetic presentation, but which he made sure never compromises Pompeo’s composure.
Farnace’s sister, Selinda, was played by mezzo-soprano Silvia Alice Gianolla, who produced an excellent portrayal of a seductress, who knowingly uses her sexuality to help Farnace, although vocally she was rather conservative in her presentation of her. only air “Lascias di sospirar!” However, his recitatives displayed depth and detail and were delivered with a high degree of expressiveness.
Baritone Mauro Borgioni produced a well-sung performance as Rome’s Prefect Aquilio in which his distinctive and warm timbre drew attention. His voice has strength and depth, which he skillfully used to characterize his role. The aria “Alle minaccia di fiera belva” showed her vocal agility to good effect, in which her detailed and intelligently designed phrasing impressed. The recitatives were delivered confidently with meaning and nuance.
It was left to Borgioni and Gianolla to bring the opera to an untimely end with the duo “Io sento nel petto”, which they delivered with a fluo, their voices complementing each other perfectly.
Although having only a small role, the Coro Accademia Dello Spirito Santo under the direction of choir director Francesco Pinamonti produced a solid performance. The short choir “Su campioni, su guerrieri” with brass accompaniment, in particular, was dramatically loud.
Federico Maria Sardelli, specialist in Vivaldi, took charge of the Accademia Dello Spirito Santo Orchestra, from which he obtained a superb performance. It was elegant and refined, but with a rhythmic vitality that managed to promote the drama. The balance within the orchestra has been skillfully maintained and successfully revealed the delicate textures of the score. Likewise, the balance with the stage was in perfect harmony, in which neither was allowed to predominate.
In many ways, this production of “Farnace”, stripped of its third act, could well have been seen as an academic exercise, one for Vivaldi enthusiasts, a chance to see the composers final, albeit incomplete, version of one of his most popular operas. . In the end, however, it turned out to be so much more than that. It was dramatically cohesive, and in some ways the details added to the drama. Granted, there have been productions of full versions of “Farnace” that have proven to be far less satisfying, the production of La Fenice 2021, also directed by Sardelli, comes to mind.