Brilliance Seldom Heard: Vivaldi's 'The Coronation of Dario'

woo-1401-250bWhen it comes to opera, music lovers tend to put composers into one of two categories: true "opera composers," and all the rest. But that tends to leave some of opera's finest composers, and their works, out in the cold.

When it comes to the rarified club of artists who are universally acclaimed as "opera composers," there are many who have been members all along: Verdi, Rossini and Wagner come to mind, along with Donizetti and Bellini. Others -- Handel, for example -- are members now, but were a bit slow to be admitted by the cognoscenti. And still more may gain entry once history has had just a bit more time to confirm their status. Leos Janacek and Benjamin Britten come to mind.

Then there are those who live in a sort of high-profile, operatic limbo -- composers who are so popular for music other than opera that the operas they actually wrote seem to have been lost in the shuffle.

For example, think of Joseph Haydn and Antonin Dvorak. They're very different composers, one from music's Classical Era, one from the Romantic. But they have this in common: They're both so well-known for great symphonies that their many, highly-accomplished operas have somehow remained obscure.

There's also another example of that phenomenon, from the Baroque Era: Antonio Vivaldi. He wrote so many concertos that scholars have had trouble counting them all. Yet people never seem to tire of them. His set of concertos called "The Four Seasons" is among the most popular works of classical music ever composed.

Thus it's hardly surprising that by the time Vivaldi wrote his first opera in 1713, at age 35, he was already internationally known for his instrumental works. What may surprise you is that Vivaldi also went on to become one of the most successful opera composers of his time. And, while we seldom think of him that way today, that may be changing; Vivaldi's operas are being staged more and more often, in theaters around the world.

On World of Opera, host Lisa Simeone brings us evidence of that trend, in a production of Vivaldi's The Coronation of Dario, from the International Baroque Opera Festival in Beaune, France. It's a fairly early score by Vivaldi, written just a few years after his very first operas were composed. Yet it already reveals a distinctly original, operatic style -- or rather, a variety of styles. With more than 50 scenes, the score has arias and other numbers in a seeming myriad of musical sizes and shapes!

In Beaune, tenor Anders Dahlin sings the title role, with mezzo-soprano Kristina Hammarström as Princess Statira, his seemingly dim-witted opposite number, and contralto Delphine Galou as Statira's wiley sister, Argene. Conductor Ottavio Dantone leads the acclaimed Accademia Bizantina orchestra.