Dramma per musica in 3 acts
Composer: Antonio Vivaldi
Libretto: Adriano Morselli
First performed: Teatro Sant’Angelo, Venice, 23 January 1717
A simple word association test:
Anyone not think of the Four Seasons?
Vivaldi was, though, more than just an instrumental composer; he was a priest (his severe asthma forced him to leave the priesthood); violin teacher; pizza inspiration; and one of the most prolific opera composers of his day. By his reckoning, he composed 94 operas, but musicologists have only identified 49; of these, a mere 22 survive, most found in the Library of Turin.
Vivaldi’s first known opera, Ottone in villa, was performed in Vicenza in 1713; a string of successes in his native Venice followed. L’incoronazione di Dario was his seventh opera, performed, like many of his operas, at the Teatro Sant’Angelo.
Dario is a deft, clever work, more comical than heroic opera seria. The setting is the Persian court in the sixth century BC; Cyrus the Great has died, and Persian nobles, including Dario (Darius), are jockeying for power. They agree that whoever wins the heart of Cyrus’s daughter Statira will rule. Statira, though, is alarmed to hear suitors want her heart, her lips, or her bosom; they’re hers, and she doesn’t want to be deprived of her body parts. Statira, in fact, is naïve (if not simple, or even mentally underprivileged) – so naïve she then promises her hand to three suitors. Her sister, the evil Argene, is also in love with Dario, and wants the throne; she orders Statira to be left in a forest for wild bears to eat. Darius rescues her, and rises to the throne, with Statira at his side.
Despite the historical setting, it’s largely fiction. Only Darius is a real person; he rose to the throne, according to official Persian records, when he overthrew the usurper Gaumata. (Modern historians believe this was a coup d’état against Cyrus’s heir.) It’s also one of hundreds of pseudo-historical imbroglios set in royal courts, part of a tradition that lasts well into the bel canto age of Rossini, Meyerbeer, and Donizetti.
Other Vivaldi operas take place, for instance, in Armenia, Albania, Parthia, Pontus (Turkey), and China. Teuzzone (1719) suggests they’re cut to a pattern. “The plot,” Wikipedia says, “concerns the aftermath of Troncone’s death, where his wife Zidiana schemes with the governor Cino and the general Sivenio to seize power, even though Teuzzone is the rightful heir. Zelinda, the fiancée of Teuzzone, is a powerful woman in her own right and fights against this move, especially when it becomes clear that Zidiana’s plan is to marry Teuzzone for herself.” Substitute Teuzzone for Dario, Zidiana for Argene, Zelinda for Statira, and Cino and Sivenio for the Persian nobles Arpago and Oronte.
The libretto was written by one Adriano Morselli, and first set by Domenico Freschi in 1684. It was, in fact, something of a throwback. “The profusion of various forms of arias and ensembles, opposed to the hegemony of the da capo aria,” Frédéric Delaméa writes, “the presence of several arias at the start of a scene, and the incursion of arioso passages into a plethoric libretto boasting over 50 scenes, represented a virtually overt stylistic rebellion against the new dogmas.” And a good thing, too, one might think!
The libretto may be old, but the fast pace, complex plot, flexible musical style, and comic tone anticipate Mozart or Rossini. It’s a delightful opera that would doubtless work well on stage. The music is consistently elegant and tuneful, though rarely hitting the heights of La verità in cimento (1720).
The finest arias in Act I include Dario’s “Sarà dono del tuo amore” and “Chi vantar può il suo valore”, expressing his love for Statira; Statira’s “In petto ho un certo affanno” and “L’occhio, il labbro, il seno, il core”, not too happy with the idea of love or having her body parts removed. Two minor characters have fine arias: the servant Flora’s Rossinian “Arma il cor di bel coraggio”; and Alinda’s “Se si potesse amar”. In Act II, Argene’s dramatic “Fermo scoglio in mezzo al mare” compares her heart to a rock lashed by sea storms (the kind of aria Mozart parodied in Così fan tutte). Her “Sarà tua la bella sposa” cleverly consists of asides to three listeners. Alinda compares herself to a lost bird in “Io son quell’augelletto”. Statira’s “Sentirò fra ramo e ramo” is another delightful nature-painting, as she imagines a pleasant garden with charming zephyrs and amorous birds.
Operas for Rome, Mantua (in Hapsburg employ), Florence, and Milan followed. His last operas, in the late 1730s, being unsuccessful, Vivaldi went to Vienna in 1741, possibly to supervise the performance of one of his works. He died there a month later.
Anders Dahlin (Dario), Sara Mingardo (Statira), Delphine Galou (Argene), Riccardo Novaro (Niceno), Roberta Mameli (Alinda), Lucia Cirillo (Oronte), Sofia Soloviy (Arpago), and Giuseppina Bridelli (Flora), with the Accademia Bizantia conducted by Ottavio Dantone. Naïve B00IGD7OE8, 2014.
Frédéric Delaméa, “Dario trionfante”, in the Naïve CD booklet.