The Baroque fashion for pastiche operas has seemingly been revived in recent months, with productions like the Met's 'Enchanted Island' and now this recording of 'L'Olimpiade'. But while the former production seemed to be PR for Handel, barring the obvious Vivaldi or Rameau addition, the Venice Baroque Orchestra under the direction of Markellos Chryssicos has created something quite sublime here. Working from the libretto created for Caldara in 1733, the present recording features music from no less than 16 different composers, who all set Metstasio's dramma per musica at some point during the 18th century. Most of the composers' names will be unknown to the general public, but that should by no means be prohibitive. On the contrary, it is precisely though efforts like this that the public will learn to know the names of those who were once great - and whose music is still great - but fell into obscurity for one reason or another.
The choice of arias has been very carefully made, so that even though fifty years might separate some of the settings, the whole CD still has a lovely stylistic coherence to it. Stand-out arias, to name but a few, include Licida's "Gemo in un punto", set by Baldassare Galuppi, which is given a much more dramatic ornamentation than in the full DVD recording of Galuppi's opera (available on the Dynamic label), Aminta's "Son qual per mare ignoto", here in a setting by Johann Adolf Hasse, as well as Argene's "Che non mi disse un di", set by Tommaso Traetta, whose name will probably be most familiar from Les Talens Lyriques' recording of 'Antigona'. The only weak(er) choices I find are the settings of Davide Perez, though this is but a minor irritation and largely a product of my own tastes.
The casting has Romina Basso, Franziska Gottwald and Ruth Rosique all reprising the roles of Megacle, Licida and Aristea respectively, which they sang in the VBO's production of the Galuppi version, and all three portray their characters excellently. The remaining singers (Karina Gauvin as Argene, Nicholas Phan as Clistene, and Nicholas Spanos as Aminta) are also all pleasing, though one might have wished for Roberta Invernizzi as Argene, in order to reunite the four protagonists as they were in the Galuppi staging! And to top it all off, there is the ever-supportive and vibrant playing of the VBO, as well as Markellos Chryssicos' spot-on interpretive choices to look forward to.
There are no recitatives - some might jump for joy at this - which creates the feeling that this is just a recital disc, but seeing as the arias are so wonderful and so sensitively chosen, the absence of this also pales into insignificance.