Antonio Vivaldi and others: Andromeda liberata
Simone Kermes (Andromeda), Max Emanuel Cencic (Perseus), Katerina Beranova (Cassiopeia), Marijana Mijanovic (Meliso), Enrico Onofri (Daliso)
Andrea Marcon (conductor)
Venice Baroque Orchestra
Modern audiences often find the music of the first part of the eighteenth century -- Handel, Scarletti, Vivaldi and friends -- so rewarding and enjoyable that it is easy to forget that these composers, whether they wrote for patrons or the paying public, did not write with posterity in mind. There is a certain amount of entertainment in Andromeda liberata, a serenata recently discovered in Venice and dated 1726, but it is a salutary reminder of how all the lovely baroque musak was really produced.
The excitement, the tour of which this performance is part and the associated recording by Deutsche Gramaphon arise because Olivier Fourés, the scholar who discovered the manuscript, noticed that one aria in it is definitely by Vivaldi, which implies that some or all of the rest is as well. There is also evidence, though, that some of the rest is definitely not by Vivaldi. Although pasticcio serenatas are otherwise unknown -- the form, basically expensive background music for a ball, is too simple to be worth assembling from existing music, words or both -- it looks as if this must be one. There is some evidence that it is connected with the return to Venice from exile of Cardinal Ottoboni, Handel's one-time patron in Rome, who became rather too pro-French and had to stay there until Venice and France reopened diplomatic ties.
Fourés suggests, plausibly enough, that an entertainment was scrambled under Vivaldi's direction at short notice, and that he wrote and borrowed (possibly with the collaboration of the other composers) to put together this work in no time. Certainly, the best that can be said for the music is that it lets the performers show what they can do enjoyably enough. The libretto, though, is pretty bad even of its kind. Its quasi-pastoral plot is minimal: Andromeda, rescued by Perseus from the sea monster, at first refuses to marry him because she is in love with Daliso, an otherwise unknown character who despises love; he tells her he's not interested so she marries Perseus after all and everybody is happy. This is probably an allegory of Ottoboni's return to Venice, as also suggested by the Vergilian shepherd who clearly represents the people mourning and rejoicing as appropriate, and there's precious little of interest in it to anybody who's not concerned with that -- the lovers are sexless and emotionally one dimensional and the music really doesn't have a chance for a modern audience when the work isn't about anything humanly engaging.
Still, Andrea Marcon and his team have done Andromeda proud for her European tour. A fine cast at the Barbican delivered as much drama as they could. Simone Kermes, a highly theatrical creamy redhead, gave the role of Andromeda plenty of vocal colour and oomph, although it was almost all her rather than the music. (If there were any verisimilitude in the plot, Daliso would have turned out to be gay and would have had a word about the frock, the shoes and, especially, the diamante ankle bracelet.) Max Emanuel Cencic, a fruity true alto counter tenor, was less than heroic as Perseus, but like Kermes he made his better arias, including "Sovvente il sole", the one indisputably by Vivaldi, more moving than they might be. Marijana Mijanovic as the shepherd Meliso sounded remarkably similar to him, although rather more robust. Katerina Beranova was a ladylike Cassiopeia, the mother from hell, and Enrico Onofri was competent in the thankless role of the gornisht tenor Daliso. The orchestra also provided plenty of Venetian colour, and the evening went quickly even if it was less than exhilarating.