There have been two releases of 'new' Vivaldi works recently, New Discoveries Volume 2, and this, Orlando furioso, 1714. More accurately, the opera is a new attribution, having previously been considered the work of the young composer Giovanni Alberto Rostori.
With so much mystery surrounding the work, there is still a whiff of the spurious about the new offering. Several arias are missing from the manuscript housed in Turin. More are incomplete. The whole of Act III has been lost. Surely, then, this recreation is more to do with musicology than music, and more Sardelli than Vivaldi?
As ever, Sardelli makes a very clear and convincing case in his notes which accompany the recording. He didn't want to burden the world, he says, with another pasticcio, and so rejected the idea of re-creating the third act. Those arias that are taken wholesale from the Vivaldi operas which pre-date this score (Ottone in villa and Orlando finto pazzo) were recycled by the composer himself, with one single exception. Where the music is supplied by Sardelli, filling in for the missing vocal and melodic lines, Sardelli argues that the only other viable alternative was to abandon the fragments altogether. And anyway, he says, 'in this case, the fragmentation was horizontal, not vertical: what was missing was not whole blocks of music but a few lines of a composition that had survived in part.' Perhaps he is being slightly disingenuous here. 'A few lines' refers, after all, to musical parts rather than bars. What has survived is often no more than the basso continuo part and the first few bars of melody.
Despite reservations, this CD has to represent one of the triumphs of recent times in Baroque music. Sardelli is a thoroughly assured Vivaldian, and there can't be anyone better equipped than he is to divine the composer's intentions.
Two great regrets for me in 2012 were (despite being in France for practically the whole year!) missing the climax of the Tour de France, and missing the Beaune Festival of Baroque Music, where this Vivaldi opera received its world premiere. Luckily, the current CDs capture the essence of what was missed last July. And while the opera does not match Vivaldi's best in this genre (it is not La fida ninfa, for example), it is spirited and engaging nonetheless. From the very first tracks of CD 1 (which feature the scarcely heard Sinfonia RV781, contemporaneous with this opera and probably written as an overture) it gives an illuminating insight into Vivaldi's early years as an opera composer and, at the same time, a superb example of inspired musicianship. A very worthy release from Naive.