Vivaldi: Juditha Triumphans
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Vivaldi: Juditha Triumphans

Marianne Beate Kielland, Rachel Redmond, La Capella Reial de Catalunya, Le Concert Des Nations, Jordi Savall

‘Judith triumphant over the barbarians of Holofernes' is the only survivor of the four oratorios that Vivaldi is known to have composed. The work was commissioned to celebrate the victory of the Republic of Venice over the Turks during the siege of Corfu. All characters, male and female, are interpreted by women (originally the singers of the Ospedale della Pietà in Venice). Although the rest of the oratorio survives completely intact, the overture has been lost and Jordi Savall has selected two existing concertos as introduction, of which the key, mode and no doubt date of composition coincide most closely with the subject of the oratorio.

The oratorio Juditha Triumphans marks the climax of Vivaldi’s vocal production. The great beauty of its arias and choral parts, the compact dramatic quality of its recitatives and the richness of instrumentation all single it out as one of the most intense and fascinating examples of the genre.

Lavishly illustrated booklet containing the full libretto translated in six languages.

Review

The plot of Vivaldi’s Juditha Triumphans – ‘Judith the Triumphant’ – is gruesome: barbaric Assyrian general Holofernes invades Judea, and in retaliation the virtuous Judith beheads him. It is an unusual plot for an oratorio originally intended to be sung by young women. But, all roles from Judith to Holofernes to the eunuch Vagaus – and even to the chorus of soldiers – were premiered by the women of the Venetian orphanage Ospedale della Pietá, where Vivaldi was violin teacher and music director. Although not uncommon for contemporary performances of the oratorio to employ countertenors for the male characters, Jordi Savall’s recent recording of Juditha Triumphans features an all-female cast.

Norwegian mezzo soprano Marianne Beate Kielland portrays the title role, alongside a first-rate lineup of singers. While technically a contralto role (and perhaps at times a little low for her voice), Kielland is a superb Judith: her tone is luscious and her presence commanding. Rachel Redmond is a beguiling Vagaus, and she impressively turns on the vocal fireworks in the aria ‘Armatae face’ (‘Armed with torches’).

The overture to Vivaldi’s Juditha Triumphans has been lost, and in its place Savall has selected two concertos – presumably composed around the same time – which fit with the musical aesthetics of the oratorio. These concertos, coupled with choir La Capella Reial de Catalunya’s performances of the choruses, are highlights of the recording for their joy and vitality. Particularly captivating is the final chorus ‘Salve invicta Juditha formosa’ (‘Hail Judith the Invincible’). It’s a rare joy to hear adult female voices alone in a choral setting.

Savall’s recordings, whether he features as music director or soloist, are thoroughly researched, packaged beautifully, and always of the highest quality. Under his baton Vivaldi’s music sparkles in yet another triumphant Alia Vox release.


Alexandra Mathew is a classical music specialist at Readings Carlton.

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