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Another Baroque opera, this time completely obscure, is Leonardo Vinci’s Catone in Utica, premiered in Rome in 1728, during the period when a papal edict of 1588 had banned women from the stage – a long-lasting prohibition. Not a problem if one has an abundance of castrati to compose for, but one which might explain why this recording is a world premiere (instigated by Max Emanuel Cenčić). The libretto is by Metastasio, with a vague nod to Plutarch, and concerns Julius Caesar’s defeat of Marcus Porcius Cato (Catone) with much fictional elaboration concerning Cato’s daughter secretly loving Caesar whilst betrothed to her father’s choice, Numidian prince Arbace. Obviously nothing will go to plan, providing Vinci with ample opportunities for a series of dramatic arias. This he does extremely skilfully with some remarkably deft characterisations: listen to Catone’s almost shouted ‘Dovea svenarti’ and daughter Marzia’s faltering ‘Confusa, smarrita’. The cast relishes its vocal challenges, which are immense, with ne’er a trill missed. Juan Sancho moves from his Spanish songs to Catone’s tenorial bravura with fluent coloratura. Cenčić is on top form as Arbace, as is the appropriately sweeter Valer Sabadus as Marzia. Vince Yi sounds astonishingly feminine as Emilia, and Martin Mitterrutzner proves another agile tenor. Franco Fagioli’s juicy countertenor adds spice as Cesare. Conductor Riccardo Minasi leads the ensemble Il Pomo d’Oro confidently through Rameau’s musical maze. My one caveat concerns the acreage of recitative, sometimes lasting up to ten minutes, which impedes the drama whilst ostensibly moving it along: some of this is excitingly accompanied, but the bulk is not so much secco as arid.

Francis Muzzu Read the full review on Agora Classica

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