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La Senna festeggiante, RV693

'Vivaldi: La Senna festeggiante' (CDA67361/2)
Vivaldi: La Senna festeggiante
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Part 1 No 01a. Sinfonia: Allegro
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Track 1 on CDA67361/2 CD1 [2'06] 2CDs Archive Service
Part 1 No 01b. Sinfonia: Andante molto
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Track 2 on CDA67361/2 CD1 [2'22] 2CDs Archive Service
Part 1 No 01c. Sinfonia: Allegro molto
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Track 3 on CDA67361/2 CD1 [1'26] 2CDs Archive Service
Part 1 No 02. Chorus: Della Senna (L'Età dell'Oro/La Virtù/La Senna)
Part 1 No 03. Recitative: Io che raminga errante (L'Età dell'Oro)
Part 1 No 04. Aria: Se qui pace (L'Età dell'Oro)
Part 1 No 05. Recitative: Anch'io raminga errando (La Virtù)
Part 1 No 06. Aria: In quest' onde, che feconde (La Virtù)
Part 1 No 07. Recitative: Illustri amiche (La Senna)
Part 1 No 08. Aria: Qui nel profondo (La Senna)
Part 1 No 09. Recitative: Sì, sì, già che tu (L'Età dell'Oro/La Virtù)
Part 1 No 10. Aria: Godrem fra noi la pace (L'Età dell'Oro/La Virtù)
Part 1 No 11. Recitative: Tutto muor (La Senna/L'Età dell'Oro/La Virtù)
Part 1 No 12. Aria: Vaga perla, benché sia (La Virtù)
Part 1 No 13. Recitative: Tal di me parlo (L'Età dell'Oro)
Part 1 No 14. Aria: Al mio seno il pargoletto (L'Età dell'Oro)
Part 1 No 15. Recitative: Della ferrea stagion (La Virtù/L'Età dell'Oro)
Part 1 No 16. Duet: Qui per darci amabil pace (La Virtù/L'Età dell'Oro)
Part 1 No 17. Recitative: Ma rimirate, amiche (La Senna)
Part 1 No 18. Aria: L'alta lor gloria immortale (La Senna)
Part 1 No 19. Recitative: O di qual melodia (L'Età dell'Oro/La Virtù/La Senna)
Part 1 No 20. Chorus: Di queste selve (La Senna/La Virtù/Coro/L'Età dell'Oro)
Part 2 No 01. Ouverture: Adagio – Presto – Allegro
Part 2 No 02. Recitative: Mà già ch'unito (La Senna)
Part 2 No 03. Aria: Pietà, dolcezza (La Senna)
Part 2 No 04. Recitative: Non si ritardi (L'Età dell'Oro/La Virtù)
Part 2 No 05. Aria: Stelle, con vostra pace (La Virtù)
Part 2 No 06. Recitative: Vedrete in questo (La Senna/L'Età dell'Oro/La Virtù)
Part 2 No 07. Duet: Io qui provo (L'Età dell'Oro/La Virtù)
Part 2 No 08. Recitative: Quanto felici (L'Età dell'Oro)
Part 2 No 09. Aria: Giace languente (L'Età dell'Oro)
Part 2 No 10. Recitative: Quanto felici (La Virtù)
Part 2 No 11. Aria: Così sol nell'aurora (La Virtù)
Part 2 No 12. Recitative: Ma giunti eccone innante (La Senna/La Virtù/L'Età dell'Oro)
Part 2 No 13. Aria: Non fu mai più vista in soglio (L'Età dell'Oro)
Part 2 No 14. Recitative: Io primo offro (La Senna/La Virtù/L'Età dell'Oro)
Part 2 No 15. Chorus: Il destino, la sorte e il fato (L'Età dell'Oro/La Virtù/La Senna/Coro)

La Senna festeggiante, RV693
One clue to the circumstances surrounding La Senna festeggiante is the unusually heavy concentration in it of French (or supposedly French) stylistic traits, including a surprisingly high incidence of accompanied recitative employing strings in addition to continuo. This coincides with a visit to Venice, between July and December 1726, of Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni (famed as a patron of Corelli and Handel), who was Protector of the Affairs of France at the Vatican. A Venetian patrician, Ottoboni had broken the Republic’s law and incurred its wrath by accepting this post from his great-uncle, the Pope, in 1709, thereby triggering the rupture in diplomatic relations with France mentioned earlier. Not until 1726 was the breach healed sufficiently for him to return to his native city. For obvious reasons, Languet acted as his main host during the visit. By ‘gallicising’ his style, Vivaldi seems to be courting Ottoboni rather than Languet, whom he had not similarly flattered in the earlier wedding serenata. Indeed, the cardinal had acted as a patron to Vivaldi on his visits to Rome in the early 1720s and was the recipient of a large number of his sonatas and concertos. It is even possible that La Senna festeggiante was not actually performed in Venice in 1726 but was presented to Ottoboni during his visit in the hope, perhaps vain, that he would make future use of it in Rome.

The librettist for La Senna festeggiante, identified on the title-page of the score in the hand of its copyist, the composer’s elderly father Giovanni Battista Vivaldi, was Domenico Lalli (1679-1741). From the second to the fourth decade of the eighteenth century Lalli was a dominant force on the Venetian operatic scene, constantly in demand as a librettist and sometimes also as a manager. Like Vivaldi, he was an ‘operator’ who lived by his wits. His libretti are workmanlike rather than polished, and – again like Vivaldi – he was a master of adaptation and recycling. In 1730 he produced for the Bavarian court a similarly titled serenata text, L’Isara festeggiante (named after the river flowing past Munich), and although this second libretto contains no direct borrowings from La Senna festeggiante, its indebtedness surfaces everywhere in phrases and words.

The present serenata has three allegorical characters: L’Età dell’Oro (The Golden Age), La Virtù (Virtue) and La Senna (The Seine). Its very rudimentary plot, following a very common structural plan in serenatas, is conceived as a quest: the characters are introduced little by little to the identity and the flatteringly drawn personal traits of the recipient of the homage. In Part I, following a preliminary celebration by the nymphs of the Seine, first L’Età dell’Oro and then La Virtù arrive at the river’s banks, lamenting the sorry state of the world. La Senna offers them perpetual hospitality, and the three exchange compliments at length before the nymphs return to close the section – but not until the river god has drawn his visitors’ attention towards a flock of white swans that tell of even greater things. In Part II the banner of the French king is spotted, and the three make their way towards the royal palace, presumably Versailles. They sing his praises, comment on his regal appearance and offer him wishes for a glorious future.

Vivaldi chose (or had chosen for him) a soprano voice for L’Età dell’Oro and an alto voice for La Virtù. Either or both parts may originally have been intended for a castrato. La Senna is written for a bass voice of exceptional range and agility. Such voices are rare in Venetian operatic music of the period, and one suspects that the designated singer was a member of Ottoboni’s entourage brought from Rome. Besides the usual strings and continuo instruments, Vivaldi includes in the orchestra a pair of oboes and a pair of recorders, perhaps in the knowledge of the prominence of these wind instruments in the cardinal’s own orchestra.

The opening number is a three-movement Sinfonia, the outer movements of which come from a string concerto, RV117, while the central movement is a remake of its counterpart in the opera Giustino (1724). Significantly, the first movement of the concerto version is headed ‘alla francese’, a reference to its fierce tiratas (upward sweeps of quick notes) and jagged dotted rhythms. The first closed vocal number is a lively chorus (headed ‘coro’) – that is to say, an ensemble for the three singers, who momentarily step outside their normal dramatic roles and invite the nymphs to disport themselves. There follows an aria for L’Età dell’Oro, ‘Se qui pace talor vo cercando’, in which lovers of Vivaldi’s concertos will spot familiar ‘birdsong’ effects and also the use of a chromatic motive connoting sleep, when the birds fall silent. The opening aria for La Virtù, ‘In quest’onde che feconde’, is delicately scored for a concertino of two recorders and violin bass that alternates with the full string band. To conclude the first ‘round’ of arias, we have La Senna’s flamboyant ‘Qui nel profondo’, styled as an aria all’unisono in the manner of ‘The people that walked in darkness’ from Handel’s Messiah.

The two visitors continue with a dance-like duet, ‘Godrem fra noi la pace’, adapted from a similar movement in the Wedding Serenata. La Virtù adds a racy aria, ‘Vaga perla benché sia’, which is dominated by Vivaldi’s favourite rocking rhythm of two quavers enclosing a crotchet. The response from L’Età dell’Oro is ‘Al mio seno il pargoletto’, a charmingly wistful aria in minuet rhythm employing several French turns of phrase; Vivaldi borrowed its music from his much earlier opera Arsilda, regina di Ponto (1716). The next number is a lilting duet, ‘Qui per darci amabil pace’, that is not only French in rhythm (Vivaldi heads it ‘Minuet’) but also French in form, being cast as a rondeau in which the episode (couplet), sung by La Virtù, is merely a transposed version of the refrain. La Senna re-imposes his presence with a stirring aria, ‘L’alta lor gloria immortale’, and the first part concludes with another ensemble in Arcadian vein, ‘Di queste selve’; Lalli adapted its text from a chorus that he had written for an old serenata, Calisto in orsa (1714).

The second part opens with another kind of overture, this time expressly in the French style (Vivaldi heads it ‘Ouvertur’). The slow outer sections, with their fiercely dotted rhythms, are passably good imitations of the native manner, but the brisk fugal central section is a little odd. For one thing, its initial set of entries builds up from the bottom and begins on a tonic chord, whereas the genuine article would have worked downwards from the first violins and started on a dominant chord. In fact, Vivaldi took nearly all the material of this section from the end of a four-part madrigal by his Venetian contemporary Antonio Lotti, cunningly disguising the borrowing by changing the metre from 6/4 to 3/8 and shuffling the parts around. A short gavotte-like movement concludes the overture.

The first aria is La Senna’s ‘Pietà, dolcezza’. This very slow aria in triple time displays its ‘Frenchness’ in an unusual way by employing minim, rather than crotchet, beats. The result is a forest of ‘white’ notes (as found in many French scores of the period), and there may additionally be an allusion, in the spirit of ‘eye music’, to the whiteness of the swans or to the noble pallor of the French monarch’s face. ‘Stelle con vostra pace’, sung by La Virtù, is dominated by a line for unison violins that contains many percussive chords; Vivaldi based this movement, too, on an aria from Arsilda. The following duet, ‘Io qui provo sì caro diletto’, is a borrowing from Giustino, possibly via the Wedding Serenata. L’Età dell’Oro’s minor-key aria ‘Giace languente’ must have proved a success, since Vivaldi soon used it again for his new opera Dorilla in Tempe, which opened on 9 November 1726. La Virtù’s ‘Così sol nell’aurora’, airily pastoral in tone, is set to a text adapted by Lalli from the anonymous libretto of Apollo in Tempe, a serenata written in honour of the electoral prince of Saxony, later Friedrich August II, on the occasion of his visit to Venice in 1712. Vivaldi’s music for this aria is based on a favourite theme encountered as early as the opera Orlando finto pazzo (1714) but best known from the third movement of his flute concerto RV434. L’Età dell’Oro follows with yet another elegant minuet-aria, ‘Non fu mai più vista in soglio’.

Lalli soon afterwards borrowed the text of the final ensemble, ‘Il destino, la sorte e il fato’, for another serenata, La Fenice, with which Ottoboni, on 9 November 1726, gave thanks to the Venetian nobility for welcoming him back from exile. For his part, Vivaldi delved into his old operas to find a choral chaconne that would crown his homage to the French king and nation. He obtained one in La verità in cimento (1720) – or perhaps in Giustino, where the same movement had already been recycled. The problem is that the chaconne is set for four voices, whereas only three sing in the serenata. Vivaldi cut the Gordian knot with typical directness, writing next to the tenor part: ‘Sarebbe molto bene far cantare questo tenore ma però non è necessario’ (‘It would be very nice to have this tenor sung, but this is not obligatory [since the part is doubled by viola]’).

An emphasis on identifying borrowings can make it appear as if La Senna festeggiante is just another incoherent pasticcio. This would be unfair: the score has been put together with immense care and artistry, and all the borrowed portions justify themselves more than adequately in their new context. Indeed, this serenata is Vivaldi’s grandest and best secular vocal work, gaining a lot from its not quite convincing, but nevertheless highly attractive, apings of le style français. Its still obscure origins may tantalise musicologists, but for music-lovers it holds a wealth of memorable moments, powerful and tender alike.

from notes by Michael Talbot © 2002

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Details for CDA67361/2 disc 1 track 11
Part 1 No 9, Recitative: Sì, sì, già che tu (L'Età dell'Oro/La Virtù)
Recording date
6 February 2002
Recording venue
St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Ben Turner
Recording engineer
Philip Hobbs
Hyperion usage
  1. Vivaldi: La Senna festeggiante (CDA67361/2)
    Disc 1 Track 11
    Release date: November 2002
    Deletion date: November 2013
    2CDs Archive Service
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