There is no complete surviving score for Vivaldi's Ercole su'l Termodonte, but there is enough existing material that modern scholars have been able to reconstruct it primarily by making new settings of the lost recitatives. The first production of the opera since Vivaldi's time was at Spoleto in 2006 in a version by Alessandro Ciccolini, which was released as a DVD. Conductor Fabio Biondi made a version introduced in Venice in 2007, which is recorded on this 2010 Virgin CD. Biondi's recording has the advantage of two international superstars in the leading roles, tenor Rolando Villazón and mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, and soprano Diana Damrau is nearly in their league. Villazón's earthy voice is usually associated with 19th century and verismo Italian repertoire, but he has an acute sensitivity to Baroque vocal style, and his robust, almost baritonal tenor is entirely appropriate for a larger-than-life character like Hercules. DiDonato excels as Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, singing with her characteristic brilliance and warm humanity. The rest of the cast consists mostly of singers who are superstars or near-superstars in the more circumscribed world of Baroque opera: soprano Patrizia Ciofi, mezzo-sopranos Vivica Genaux and Romina Basso (who sounds like a genuine contralto), counter tenor Philippe Jaroussky, and tenor Topi Lehtipuu. The vocal standards are predictably high; the singers are in absolute control of Vivaldi's extreme demands and they have the ease with the repertoire to make it sound spontaneous and effortless. These are all performers with exceptionally lovely voices -- pure, velvety, colorful, and supple -- so the recording should be a pleasure for any fans of vocal music. The singers are also superb actors, and the eight leads create distinctly differentiated characters. Biondi leads Europa Galante in a performance of exquisite precision and refinement (although the natural horns used in some arias add an appropriately rough-hewn quality to the warriors' music), and the continuo parts are especially beautifully realized. The sound is clean, detailed, and spacious, with excellent balance.
Vivaldi: Ercole sul Termodonte
Fabio Biondi / Joyce DiDonato / Vivica Genaux
Vivaldi: Ercole sul Termodonte Review
by Stephen Eddins