Richard Hickox directs a stunning line-up of soloists in the premiere recording in this new edition of Ottone in villa.
Vivaldi wrote almost fifty operas of which only sixteen complete works survive and are preserved in full score. They do not only show his brilliance in writing for the orchestra (as one would expect), but also that he was equally adept at writing expressively and dramatically for the human voice. Though already famous as a composer of concerts when Ottone in villa appeared in 1713, Vivaldi was also involved in the management of two theatres, the Saint Angelo (1713-17) and San Moisè, for which he wrote some five operas in all. He was commissioned to write a steady stream of operas thorughout his life, for various cities and theatres. His style became more elaborate in his final period, with highly decorated vocal parts resulting in the orchestra occupying a more subordinate role. However, it is felt that his earlier operas are more sucessful and self-assured.
Ottone in villa is more erotic and pastoral than heroic in content. The story revolves around the Roman emperor Ottone’s mistress, Cleonilla. The handsome youth Caio also courts Cleonilla, to the dismay of his lover Tullia, who, disguised as a man under the name of Ostilio, attempts to win him back by conquering Cleonilla’s heart under her feigned masculine identity. This ruse works: Ottone comands Caio to marry Tullia and Cleonilla survives with her reputation in tact. Apart from the drama of the opera, there is much interest in the vigorous instrumental figurations and imaginative scoring, which is such a feature of this composer’s orchestral music. One delightful touch is in Caio’s magical aria L’ombre, l’aure, e ancora il rio’, which has two vilins and two recorders concealed on stage to evoke the breezes and the brook respectively.