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That operatic beauty has only one esqual, Handel.,
This review is from: Vivaldi: Ercole sul Termodonte (Audio CD)
The music is perfect and absolutely beautiful, but let me say straight away something I will not repeat: the librettist must have been on ink or pen restrictions because systematically he makes the arias repeat over and over. Musically it is very good and even absolutely fascinating most of the time because of the variations, but extra words would have been a treat and we do not get the treat.
Apart from that this opera has a beautiful subject and the treatment is superb. Hercules has to go and get the weapons of the Queen of the Amazons, Antiope and at the same time curb them down. In fact the myth is a clear change in sex roles in ancient Greece. Women are set in a secondary place and men take over, but that's not the whole story: they introduce some new political order: kings of a hereditary nature. We have to set these Amazons next to Medea to understand what they mean. The older order of things in Europe, before the arrival of the Indo-Europeans was in the hands of the descendants of Cro-Magnon and the Turkic people who arrived in Europe around 45,000 years ago. The Indo-Europeans are the invaders but they are no more than 20% of the population (DNA heritage is proving it today) which means they have to take over, hence to integrate themselves in the older society and to integrate the people of the older society in the new order. They have to recuperate the beliefs and religions and cultures of these people.
And that is the rub. These people are dedicated to one triple goddess that is as old as Homo Sapiens in Europe. It is Diana in this opera and myth. It is Hecate in Medea. The triple goddess is in Greek tradition Hecate, the queen of hell from which Antiope wants to realize her vengeance, Selene the goddess of the night and the moon, a moon that is quoted once in the opera, and finally Diana who is the goddess of hunting, young animals, life and pregnant women, the main goddess in this opera on the Amazons' side systematically referred to as the triple goddess.
Hercules is the major integrator in this Greek mythology. His various works are successive and repetitive defeats of older myths and the integration of them in the making of a demi-god, Hercules himself. On Medea's side it is Jason who has to recuperate the Golden Fleece and vanquish three mythical dangers and the armed forces of the King of Colchis, Medea's father.
Vivaldi changes one detail and turns one of the three sisters of the Queen into the daughter of the same Queen Antiope herself and he changes her name to Martesia. Then the whole situation is ready for a perfect war, victory and integration.
Theseus, Hercules' friend and king of Athens, is taken prisoner by Orithya, the co-ruler and sister of Antiope. On the other side Martesia is taken by the Greeks and later Orithyas herself.
On the Greek side we have two kings, Alceste, the King of Sparta, and Telamon the king of Ithaca, are in love with the prisoner Martesia who will prefer Alceste but in order to win one of the two men must do the most heroic deed. Alceste starts first and brings back Orithya prisoner. Telamon then frees Orithya, in Hercules' back of course, for her to go back to her sister and get Theseus free, who but no one knows is in love with Hippolyta the other sister of the Queen, so that on the Amazon side we have the love affair of Theseus and Hippolyta that is confronted to the decision of Antiope to choose a prisoner to avenge her daughter with a human sacrifice to Diana, and of course she chooses Theseus.
Without giving more details on the plot, let's say Theseus will be freed just before the axe falls on his neck, Martesia will arrive just in time to prevent her mother Antiope from killing herself and everyone will have the last word over Antiope the stubborn and Hercules and his mission. It is in fact Orithya who will hand out the weapons of her sister that Hercules must bring back to Mycenae.
And the opera ends up with two marriages dedicated to Juno, the goddess of matrimony, and Diana. The recuperation of the Amazons' goddess is a success and the Amazons will be able to go on living in their kingdom provided they stop being warriors botherring their neighbors and two of them will be integrated in the Greek descent with the two weddings.
Now this opera is superb because of many musical elements and I only want to quote a few. At first I was surprised by the choice of a female mezzo-soprano for Theseus, but I was convinced it was a giood choice when he was confronted to two other mezzo-sopranos, Antiope and Hippolyta, and to a soprano, Orithya in the scenes 10-12 of the second act. The result is absolutely from another world, for out of space.
Then Alceste being a countertenor, Philippe Jazoussky, the contrast with Hercules, a tenor, Telamon, another tenor and the non-contrast with Martesia, a soprano, except the sexual harmonics of the two voices, give a tremendous dynamism to these scenes that are super tragic in many ways, dramatic to the utmost and the voices embody these characteristics. And what's more Philippe Jaroussky does not stand out as he does too often because Vivaldi's composition integrates the voice differences in the music itself and not only as a symbol of heroism: the hero Alceste being an alto and the hero Theseus being a mezzo-soprano. That was a tradition in those days but Vivaldi made it a structural necessity. He built his musical plot on the various voices that become natural in the sound architecture of the opera.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU