Given Pietro Metastasio's enormous popularity in the 17th and early 18th centuries and his significance as a librettist for opera seria, and the fact that there are well over 1,000 known settings of his texts, it's perhaps surprising that his work is so rarely seen or heard today. A few works, most notably Mozart's La clemenza di Tito and perhaps Il rè pastore and Il sogno di Scipione, hover around the fringe of the repertoire, but the strict and artificial conventions of opera seria are so much scorned by modern audiences that these works are probably only ever performed because their dramatic stiffness can be forgiven for the sake of Mozart's music.
There were well over 50 settings of L'Olimpiade, and the music directors of the Venice Baroque Orchestra drew on the settings of 16 composers for this pasticcio. The intent was to include all the arias, ensembles, and choruses that Metastasio wrote for the opera in order to showcase the variety of composers, mostly somewhat obscure (with some extremely obscure), who set the text, ranging in familiarity from Vivaldi to the virtually unknown David Perez. The recitatives are omitted, probably a very smart move in this case, and there is enough separation between tracks that the result comes off less as an opera than as a Baroque and early Classical recital shared by six absolutely outstanding singers. They all sing with phenomenal agility and toss off the dazzling coloratura demands with apparent ease. The men have the smallest roles; countertenor Nicholas Spanos and tenor Nicholas Phan, respectively, have two and three arias, which they dispatch with finesse. The women carry the substance of the opera. Mezzo-sopranos Romina Basso and Franziska Gottwald sing with great warmth and intensity. Sopranos Karina Gauvin and Ruth Rosique, whose voices are very distinctly differentiated, are especially impressive in the shimmering colors of their voices and the expressive range of their characterizations; they are possibly standouts in an already exceptional cast. Markellos Chryssicos leads an exceptionally lively, propulsively energetic but elegant performance. The Venice Baroque Orchestra plays with gorgeous, colorful tone and high spirits. The sound is utterly clean, balanced, and realistic. Fans of Baroque opera and vocal pyrotechnics will not want to miss this terrific release.