Vivaldi’s Arsilda @ Lille

Intricate plot, this one, with an extensive-need-to-know-background information in order to fully understand it (as so often in baroque opera) but it’s worth outlining it to understand the intention of the director: Tamese and Lisea are the twins of queen Antipatra of Cilicia. Tamese loves Arsilda, queen of Ponto but is victim of a shipwreck. As the throne of Cilicia is for males only, Antipatra  announces the death of Lisea and disguises her as Tamese. The opera opens with the engagement festivities of Arsilda and Tamese/Lisea. Survived the shipwreck, the real Tamese arrives in Cilicie disguised as a gardener. This leads to all sorts of misunderstandings which involves also Barzane, the king of Lydia, first in love with Arsilda, then with the real Lisea. At the end of the opera everybody is revealed as themselves.

Vocally, although not excellent, the cast is reasonably good. As Lisea, musically and psychologically the most complex character Lucile Richardot slips into the different passions with ease displaying a beautiful contralto voice. The difficulty of the role of Cisardo showed the esteem Vivaldi must have had for the talented bass Angelo Zannoni and Lisandro Abadie, a baritone, if not entirely at ease with the lowest notes sings the difficult embellishments very well. Tamese has also some fiendishly difficult arias and Fernando Guimaraes has this weired way of singing parts of rapid runs louder than others which makes the musical line sound very uneven (Siano gli astri a me tiranni). The voice is a bit colourless, but  nonetheless the singing is overall very good. Olivia Vermeulen did a fair job but her low notes are a bit empty and her approach a tad monochromatic. I really loved the Mirinda of Lenka Macikova. Nice voice and naturally at ease on stage, Io son quel Gelsomino was one of the highlights. The Barzane of Kangmin Justin Kim disappointed in some off-key notes but convincend with a beautiful range and velvety voice. A well pronounced Italian would be a balm for the ears especially in a opera where voices are not covered by the orchestra.

If the singing was not convincing throughout, direction and conduction were excellent. Vaclav Luks conducts the Collegium 1704 enthusiastically without excesses, chooses the correct tempi and leads the orchestra through the evening with a light hand. I would have appreciated a harder edge but it’s just personal taste.

I particularly enjoyed the staging by David Radok. The unique set is a grey box with a narrowing perspective. The different locations of the plot are hinted at by opening and closing of doors and windows scattered around the box which give a partial view of beautifully painted panes. The first act is the most gripping with all characters dressed in baroque clothing and wigs,  and with dancers providing for some very clever moments (they dance, they enact the doe, the birds etc etc). As the plot evolves and the characters are stripped of their (false) identity, the singers are also stripped of their baroque cloths, gradually appearing in everyday apparel. Radok directs the singers well, scrupulously intertwining chorus and dancers in a satisfying and very pleasurable aesthethic.

Direction musicale-Václav Luks, Mise en scène et scénographie -David Radok, Peinture-Ivan Theimer, Costumes-Zuzana Ježková, Chorégraphie-Andrea Miltnerová, Lumières-Premysl Janda, Lisea-Lucile Richardot, Arsilda-Olivia Vermeulen, Barzane-Kangmin Justin Kim, Tamese-Fernando Guimarães, Cisardo-Lisandro Abadie, Mirinda-Lenka Máciková, 19/05/17, fotos by Petra Hajska from the Slovak National Theatre.