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Monday, March 31, 2014

The Superconductor Interview: Beyond the Four Seasons

One-on-one with Susan Orlando, the woman behind the Vivaldi Edition.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Antonio Vivaldi and Susan Orlando. Yes it's altered.
Original image © Naïve Classics, photo alteration by the author.
"The Vivaldi Edition is realy big. It's made a big splash!"

The speaker is Susan Orlando, director of the Vivaldi Edition, which releases complete recordings of the composer's operas on Naïve Classics. An American viola da gamba player who lives in Turin, Italy. she has been integral in showing listeners that there is far more to Vivaldi's vast output than The Four Seasons. Vivaldi, who lived and worked in Venice from (1678-1741) wrote ninety-four operas (counting pastiches. Just twenty of them have survived.

"We are doing for Vivaldi what the Germans did for Bach in the 20th century," Ms. Orlando said in a recent telephone interview. "In Europe, we're well on our way. Opera Zurich is starting to do full staged versions of the operas. Aix-en-Provence is doing a Vivaldi opera. So we're starting slowly just as they did with Handel."


She adds: "Without these recordings, this wouldn't be happening."


What is happening is the Vivaldi Edition, a series of 50+ recordings on Naïve Classics with plans to preserve the composer's entire surviving catalogue. (The newest is  L'incoronazione di Dario recorded by the Accademia Bizantina led by Antonio Dantone. It arrives April 14.) Ms. Orlando is a musician turned detective, and the direcor of the Edition. She is in charge of the lengthy process of researching, editing and preparing these operas for performance and eventually for presevation on record.. Working with the vast archives of Vivaldi's manuscripts, Ms. Orlando has been integral to the process of unearthing these lost masterpieces.

She joined the project in 2000, at the behest of musicologist Alberto Basso. The vast trove of scores underwent a torturous 300-year odyssey that saw the composer's life's work divided into two unwanted piles of sheet music, and some of them even brought by wheelbarrow and unceremoniously dumped in the courtyard of an Italian convent. Today, she is working with the Ricordi editions of the scores, which were reunited thanks to the efforts of two seperate philanthropists who each wanted to leave a musical legacy in the memory of a deceased child. The complexities of the entire journey of Vivaldi's music is almost an entire opera in itself.

Beyond her work on the recording series, Ms. Orlando is integral to the Vivaldi Foundation, which would promote the composer's music and familiarize even casual listeners with the complexities and glories of his stage works. She thinks the next step is to get the works played in North America.


"We need to bring this to America," she declared. "I've always believed in cross-cultural exchange. We need to get so get some of the Italian singers to do master classes, and to bring some of the conductors and ensembles over here. I could raise enough money I would try to get the music out in the public domain."

Ms. Orlando enthuses about Dario.  "I am so excited about this opera," she said. "I think this one of his very best." "In 18th century baroque operas," she said "the first act is always boring and then the great arias happen in the second act. This one starts--boom!--with fantastic arias right from the beginning. There are six or eight arias which are among Vivaldi's

"In Handel, it's very different there's dramatic drive. With Vivaldi, it's about the music and codified by emotion. It's not a convoluted story it works there's not all the...cross-dressing and not as many plot twists. There are unusual things he uses the viola da gamba  and the strong pathos that comes from it. Then a character will sing  and then there's this very long coda. But the arias are da capo and it starts all over agan."

She adds: "Vivaldi's librettos arent anything exceptional." However, the Italian composer compensates with the beautiful melodies for the voice. Arias are used to indicate emotional states, while the long rectatives drive the plot forward. She adds: "He (Vivaldi) doesnt seem into the drama itself and I think the recitativi are unequalled.  And each aria is sort of an emotion that stands beautifully all by itself."
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.