“Where’s the rest of it”, I briefly wondered, as Vivaldi’s Farnace from Ferrara screeched to a halt after Act 2. But of course this is a celebration of the Ferrara version which lacks the third act, not to mention the title character's famous “Gelido in ogni vena”. This version was prepared for the Teatro Bonacossi in Ferrara in 1738, but was never performed. The reason seems to lie in a realpolitik of church and nobility turning against the Red Priest and rejecting his work in favour of the works of Adolph Hasse among others.

Raffaele Pe (Farnace)
© Marco Caselli Nirmal | Fondazione Teatro Comunale di Ferrara

The history of Farnace is complex. It was a big hit on its premiere in 1827 in Venice, and was revived in many European cities, but only two scores survive: one, intact, from Pavia where it was performed in 1731, and that from Ferrara, which lacks an Act 3. The latter also contains many new arias, supplanting those from Pavia.

This performance at the Teatro Comunale di Ferrara “Claudio Abbado” was intended both as a celebration of and a sort of historic apology to Vivaldi, and thus closely follows the 1738 manuscript. Nearly all the extant Vivaldi operas suffer dramatic deficiencies by modern standards and are usually much edited by their directors or conductors. Farnace has long stretches of secco recitative, which can be made to work by a committed director and vocal cast. It is usually performed as an amalgam of the two manuscripts, with some version of an Act 3.  Ending after Act 2 does leave the drama up in the air – Will Berenice kill her grandson? Will Selinda decide on Gilade or Aquilio? – but it does have the benefit of concluding with a jolly duet. In this case, the performance made the most of the nicely varied arias and carried the drama forward to what almost seems like a dramatic finale, but there really is no fine, let alone a lieto one. 

Chiara Brunello (Tamiri) and Raffaele Pe (Farnace)
© Marco Caselli Nirmal | Fondazione Teatro Comunale di Ferrara

Marco Belussi's production is minimalist, with no attempt to follow the 1738 score’s elaborate stage directions (“Soldiers appear and quickly cut down the trees, leaving open countryside from which can be seen the sea with Berenice’s fleet …”). A pronounced chiaroscuro leaves much of the stage dark much of the time, and the singers appear mostly in black and dark red stylised outfits, of a military cast where appropriate. The Orchestra Accademia dello Sprito Santo on period instruments shone under the direction of Federico Maria Sardelli, a conductor steeped in Baroque music practices, particularly Vivaldi. The Accademia’s sister group, the Coro Accademia dello Spirito Santo also sang well in their brief contribution. 

Mauro Borgioni (Aquilio) and Silvia Alice Gianolla (Selinda)
© Marco Caselli Nirmal | Fondazione Teatro Comunale di Ferrara

Leading an excellent cast was Raffaelle Pe, as Farnace, who has a lovely unforced countertenor with the good flexibility needed for Vivaldi’s ornate arias. It’s a pity he doesn’t get to do very much in this version. The most dominant character, in terms of voice and temperament, is undoubtedly the bitch queen Berenice, forcefully sung here by Elena Biscuola. Unfortunately we lose her Act 3 aria “Non trova mai riposo” (which Vivaldi had inserted into earlier versions of the opera), but she made the most of her other arias such as “Da quel ferro” and muscled her way through the recitatives. Farnace’s long suffering wife Tamiri was well characterised by mezzo Chiara Brunello, and his sister Selinda – mezzo Silvia Alice Gianolla – convincingly played off her two opposing suitors. Gilade, on Berenice’s side was nicely sung by the only soprano here, Francesca Lombardi Mazzulli, and the Roman Prefect Aquileo, usually sung by a tenor, was taken by baritone Mauro Borgioni with effortless bronze tone. The Roman Proconsul Pompeo was sung by Leonardo Cortellazzi, bringing firm tenor nobility to his two arias, although his full magnanimity is not evident until the absent Act 3.

This performance was reviewed from the OperaStreaming live video stream

Watch the video here