Handel versus Vivaldi, London versus Venice: in an operatic head-to-head, Handel would emerge triumphant for most Baroque buffs. In 1712, Handel conquered the Venetian public with his Agrippina. By the time he arrived in England, Handel had absorbed everything he could learn in Italy, yet his London operas reached a new pinnacle, wowing fickle audiences with their sheer brilliance. La Serenissima’s own Vivaldi usually comes a poor second when considering Baroque opera, yet Milanese soprano Roberta Invernizzi presented an excellent case for the Red Priest in a dazzling Wigmore Hall recital with La Risonanza.

Roberta Invernizzi © Ribalta Luce Studio
Roberta Invernizzi
© Ribalta Luce Studio

In the Vivaldi arias that filled the first half, interrupted by a single Handel overture, it was the longer, slow numbers which most impressed. In “Ombre vane, ingiusti orrori” from Griselda, Constanza appeals to the gods for an end to her torment. Invernizzi’s lower register has a diamond-hard edge but the top is buttery soft. She displayed a remarkable ability to bend notes, gliding sexily from one pitch to the next almost in freewheeling jazz style. This was even more pronounced in Caesar’s seductive serenade to his enemy Cato’s daughter “Se mai senti spirati sul volto”, upper notes melting above the mandolin-like pizzicati from the viola. The more tempestuous numbers found her coloratura sometimes aggressive, but was inch-perfect in negotiating the wide interval leaps in arias from Ercole su’l Termodonte and Dorilla in Tempe.

Between these Vivaldi arias, Handel led an orchestral sortie in Italian guise. Rodrigo was written for Florence in 1707, although the overture displays a French style, La Risonanza attacking the dotted rhythms with purpose. With a few early moments of suspect intonation behind them, this Italian ensemble played with crisp attack, Fabio Bonizzoni bouncing from his stool, directing from the harpsichord.

La Risonanza © Laura Crippa
La Risonanza
© Laura Crippa

The tables were turned after the interval, with a rather ordinary Vivaldi sinfonia in the midst of three Handel arias – and what showstoppers they were. In Rodelinda’s “Ritorna, o caro”, time very nearly stood still, Invernizzi spinning phrases seemingly from thin air. After Caesar’s aria from Catone in Utica in the first half, it was only fair to turn to Cleopatra, with two contrasting arias from Giulio Cesare. In “Piangerò, la sorte mia”, Cleo laments the loss of her lover, presumed dead. Invernizzi injected just the right pathos into this masterpiece, again leaning gently on notes for effect. The coloratura fireworks of “Da tempeste”, as the Egyptian queen learns of Caesar’s survival, were a little muted here, all the better for not being fiercely attacked. Ornamentation in da capo repeats was applied tastefully, as it was all evening.

However, the knockout blow came in injury time: two Vivaldi arias celebrating both sides of Invernizzi’s art to perfection as welcome encores. “Leggi almeno” from Ottone in Villa was achingly beautiful, high notes floated over gently throbbing strings. Vagaus’ call to arms from the oratorio Juditha triumphans closed proceedings, with soprano and ensemble going for broke in a thrillingly fierce shower of coloratura. There can be few finer advocates for Vivaldi’s operatic music. 

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