After ten years as one of Italy’s leading operatic composers, Vivaldi got the call to travel to Rome, most likely at the suggestion of Gasparini, now living in the Eternal City, who had known ‘The Red Priest’ as a colleague at Venice’s Ospedale. The result was two and a half operas (the half was a three-way commission) including Il Giustino of 1724, here receiving its third studio recording as part of Naïve’s recently revived Vivaldi Edition. It follows on from Estévan Velardi’s 2001 four-hour marathon version on Bongiovanni and Alan Curtis’s heavily abridged 2002 take on Virgin.
Although the convoluted plot, concerning the rise to the Imperial throne of the virtuous, lowly born Justinius (the father of Justinian the Great), manages to mangle a spicy slice of genuine Byzantine history, it still has a lot going for it with plenty of romance, some real dramatic tension and a bit of magic and monsters thrown in.
In 1724 Rome, women were forbidden to tread the boards, so the original cast sported five castrati as well as a pair of tenors. The Naïve cast replaces four of them with female voices (with Alessandro Giangrande switching between alto and tenor in a pair of smaller roles). As Giustino, Delphine Galou’s rich and complex mezzo cements her reputation as one of baroque music’s most engaging singers of today. The radiant soprano Emöke Barath and the virile-toned mezzo Silke Gäng are glorious as the virtuous Empress Arianna and her newly enobled Emperor Anastasio, whose easily worked upon jealousy fuels many of the mishaps to come.
Veronica Cangemi mostly succeeds with the florid demands of Andronico’s sister Leocasta (in love with Giustino, and who gets to enter pursued by a bear!), while Emiliano Gonzales Toro’s characterful tenor suits the rebellious General Vitaliano. Vivaldi’s iridescent score is brought to colourful life by the thrillingly incisive Accademia Bizantina under the thoughtful guidance of Ottavio Dantone. With nearly an hour more music than Curtis and masterly engineering, this new recording is a clear first choice.
Composition: Il Giustino
Performer: Accademia Bizantina/Ottavio Dantone
Catalogue Number: Naïve OP30571 (3CD)