With her first Mozart recording in thirteen years, Sandrine Piau returns to Mozart, “the musical bedrock,” to showcase a few of his less well-known arias.
With thirteen years between her first Mozart recital album and Desperate Heroines, Sandrine Piau returns to the young master with many successful performances in the repertoire under her belt. With that wealth of experience, Piau manages to successfully juxtapose childlike figures, such as Barbarina from Le nozze di Figaro, with dramatic heroines such as Donna Anna.
While there is a tormented thread which binds the album together, the emotional states, circumstances, and, in the case of Aminta, the gender of the characters represented here differ greatly. It is to her credit that Piau is able to make each character distinct from the rest, and their stories so vividly brought to life.
Piau begins with the album with Barbarina’s short aria, “l'ho perduta, me meschina” from Le nozze di Figaro. Piau manages to get under the skin of her character surprisingly well for such a short aria, embodying the frantic worry of the peasant girl Barbarina, as she searches for the pin which Count Almaviva has given her to give to Susanna.
In the recitative preceding “pallid'ombre” from Mitridate, re di Ponto, Aspasia contemplates suicide. Piau begins with fiery anguish, yet she takes us on a journey which culminates in almost triumphant defiance. The cavatina begins in prayer-like fashion, building through the rising tessitura to a desperately forlorn entreaty. Piau’s treatment of the second part of the cavatina, where Aspasia contemplates the fate of Sifare, is both dramatic and moving.
“Crudeli, oh dio! fermate... ah dal pianto” is full of conflicting emotions. Piau takes us on an roller-coaster journey from anger, through confusion and fear, to despair and desolation in the cavatina, always totally committed to the turmoil Sandrina is experiencing.
With its nods to Konstanza’s aria from Die Entführung aus dem Serail, “Martern aller Arten,” “se il padre perdei” from Idomeneo sees Illa sing of her loss, and of her new-found contentment. Piau crafts with great skill the emotional landscape of a woman who has lost her father, yet has found a new love she dare not yet admit to.
Written for the soprano castrato Tommaso Consoli, “L'amero,” from Il re pastore, contains the ardent protestations of Aminta, who swears his love for his beloved Elisa. Piau brings a youthful androgyny to the roll, fusing innocence with the youthful love and tenderness.
Ivor Bolton and the Mozarteum Orchestra Salzburg are fantastic on this album, working intuitively and intelligently with Sandrine Piau to bring Mozart’s arias to life. This is a wonderful album, bringing a new understanding to some of Mozart’s Desperate Heroines.
After his acclaimed Arias for Caffarelli, Argentinian Countertenor Franco Fagioli turns his attention from pupil to master in his latest album, Porpora il Maestro.
Franco Fagioli, along with the Australian David Hansen, is one of a new generation of countertenor performers whose vocal range and technique allow them to take on the more daunting works of the famed Castrati, Farinelli and Caffarelli. Fagioli’s three octave range, his security and flexibility in the upper register, warmth in the mid-range, and unparalleled use of the modal voice in the lower range, make him the natural interpreter of the soprano and mezzo-soprano arias created by the master Baroque composers for the unearthly voices of the Castrati. Having successfully tackled a remarkable selection of arias penned for the star Castrato Caffarelli (Arias for Caffarelli), Fagioli’s latest album takes a look at the work of Porpora, composer and teacher, whose pupils included both Farinelli and Caffarelli.
The album begins with the frenzied fireworks of “Se tu la reggi al volo” from Ezio. Describing the flight of an eagle, the aria’s melismatic phrases soar and plunge as Fagioli displays his outstanding flexibility and skill for coloratura singing. The obligatory “storm” aria on the album is the frenetic “Già si desta la tempest” from Didone abbandonata. Beginning with the combined force of a wind and a thunder machine, Fagioli and the Academia Montis Regalis, conducted by Alessandro de Marchi, set out on a firecracker of an aria, with coruscating pyrotechnics both from Fagioli, and from almost every section of the orchestra.
Fagioli’s three octave range is displayed at its apex in the spectacular “Nell'attendere il mio bene” from Polifemo, with a repeat of the remarkable D6 (modern pitch C#6) which so stunned the audience at Nancy in “Vo solcando un mar crudele” from Vinci’s Artaserse. While the nadir comes during the extended a cappella cadenza concluding the fiendish “Spesso di nubi cinto” from Carlo il Calvo, with Fagioli descending through his surprisingly well integrated modal range to C3 (B2 in modern pitch).
Probably the most intense aria on the album is the sublime “Alto giove,” also from Polifemo. Fagioli weaves an hypnotic enchantment from the onset, using his excellent support during the long piano phrases to devastating effect. A delightful gem is the cantata “A voi ritorno campagne amene,” an ode to the freedom of the “delightful meadows,” marked by the profusion of haunting dissonances and suspensions between Countertenor and Violin. Fagioli suffuses the desperate lament from Meride e Selinunte, “Torbido intorno al core,” with tortured suffering, wringing every last drop of pathos from Porpora’s simple yet elegant phrases.
The Academia Montis Regalis, led by the exceptional Alessandro de Marchi, were the perfect ensemble to accompany Fagioli in this exploration of the work of the Neapolitan composer and teacher. Crisp performances, tasteful and intelligent tempo choices, and intuitive interactions with Fagioli underpinned the extraordinary calibre of this album. This is a must-have for any Baroque music aficionado!
The 53rd release in Naïve’s Vivaldi Edition project, L'incoronazione di Dario is a thrilling recording which couples intelligent and insightful direction from Ottavio Dantone, with eight extraordinary singers, and the vibrant energy of the Accademia Bizantina.
The Swedish tenor Anders Dahlin takes the title role and delivers a magnificent performance. His elegant, youthful tenor and extraordinary tonal precision make him an exciting lead in this recording. Dahiln is fully credible in the more aggressive arias, and has a surprisingly robust lower register, as his A2 in the B-section of "Chi Vantar Può" shows, while his explosive C#5 at the end of "Placami La Mia Bella" confirms his haute-contre credentials. Not to be missed, however, are the fireworks of Darios final aria, "Col Furor Ch'in Petto Io Serbo", which Dahlin executes with alarming ease.
Venetian contralto Sara Mingardo dips well below the staff from the onset in her first aria, "In Petto Ho Un Certo Affanno", and impresses with a couple of rich F#3’s in "Serena Il Tetro Nubilo”. The dark, oaky timbre of her true contralto voice brings a depth to the role of Statira which enhances the character and her music. Mingardo delivers an intense and thrilling rendition of the solo Cantata in act two, "Ardo Tacito Amante", accompanied only by the viola da gamba and harpsichord. While Mingardo has on eof the darker contralto voices on the Baroque music circuit, she can also produce a wonderful, light head tone, as can be heard in both "Se Palpitarti In Sen" and "Sentirò Fra Ramo E Ramo".
Delphine Galou is the second contralto on the recording, taking the role of Argene, Statira’s conniving younger sister. The Parisian singer is more than equipped to handle the fireworks Vivaldi write for Anna Maria Fabbri, who created the role in the first performance. Galou’s lightning coloratura and athletic da capo ornamentation bring added excitement to the performance. With a strong F#3 in "Sarà Tua La Bella Sposa", Galou shows that she is just as convincing in the lower contralto territory. The final aria, "Ferri, Ceppi, Sangui, Morte", is a thunderous tour de force which is sure to become a regular highlight of future contralto recitals.
Taking the role of Niceno is the much sought-after baritone Riaccardo Novaro. His first aria, "Quale All'onte", sees Novaro navigating the baritone range from top to bottom, with a warm and solid suspended F2 in the B-section. The unusual orchestration of his second aria, "Non Lusinghi Il Core Amante", with just bassoon and violone, adds a sinister aspect to his pursuit of Statira.
In the other roles, the incomparable soprano Roberta Mameli takes the role of Alinda, while soprano Sofia Soloviy is Arpago. Mezzo soprano Lucia Cirillo gave a thrilling performance of the venomous "Lasciami In Pace", the music of which has samples of both “Armatae face et anguibus” and “Anderò, volerò, griderò”. The other mezzo soprano on the recording, Giuseppina Bridelli, handled the intense coloratura of the minor role of Flora superbly: she is most assuredly a singer to watch in the future.
Ottavio Dantone’s direction is perfectly conceived to bring out the best in this astounding work, which is full of memorable musical gems. Accademia Bizantina are sharp, energetic, and virtuosic without ever losing sight of the drama and the meaning of the text. The highlight of the orchestral pieces is, for me, the scintillating Sinfonia Per Il Combattimento in act one.
This recording is an excellent addition to the collection of any Baroque music lover.
Les Contraltos is the latest in a series of compilations from Naïve Records, including Les Sopranos and Les Contre-ténors. It is a showcase of the very best of the contralto voice, with five world class contraltos performing a varied repertoire from Vivaldi to Schumann.
With six offerings from the French-Canadian contralto, Les Contraltos is dominated by the theatrical and sensual voice Marie-Nicole Lemieux. A consummate vocal actress, Lemieux is as convincing at portraying the innocence and dreamlike reverie of Thomas’ “Connais Tu Le Pays?” as she is the sultry flirtatiousness of Bizet’s “L'amour Est Un Oiseau Rebelle”.
Lemieux’s comprehensive textual understanding of Schumann’s Der Nussbaum and In Der Fremde, coupled with her superlative talent for storytelling, breathe new life into these beautiful Lieder. But it is in the realm of the French Art-Song that Lemieux excels beyond all else. She weaves an enchanting spell through Hahn’s “L'heure Exquise”, while her intimate “À Chloris” is for me the most beautiful piece on the compilation.
From the very first phrase of Vivaldi’s “Domine Deus Agnus Dei”, Sara Mingardo’s otherworldly voice captivates and scintillates. Her pure, dark tone adds a melancholic, repentant quality to Vivaldi’s sacred music, yet she is able to lighten her voice with surprising ease in the lively “Quae Moerebat Et Dolebat” from Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater. The Venetian contralto’s most intense performance is of Carissimi’s Cantata “Deh, Memoria, E Che Più Chiedi”, in which she draws every element of drama and passion from the work. The cantata is quite low lying, reaching F3 at points, allowing Mingardo to display her luscious lower register.
Nathalie Stutzmann employs a haunting, pure-tone delivery in the “Agnus Dei” from Bach’s Mass in B Minor. Her masterful use of dynamics, and unwavering pitch, bring out the tension in the aria. The phrasing and breath control, combined with her tasteful and understated delivery, make Stutzmann’s “Ave Maria” truly memorable. Mention here must also be made of Aurelie Saraf’s exquisite harp playing.
Naïve’s output of operas by Vivaldi are represented here by Delphine Galou and Sonia Prina. “Ti Sento, Sì, Ti Sento” from Teuzzone sees Galou dancing lightly through Vivaldi’s multiple suspensions. There is also a little passage of music in the minor key which comes straight from Cum Dederit. Her “Lo Sembro Appunto Quell’augelletto” from the 1714 version of Orlando is both upbeat and urgent, driving forward with a wonderful foot-tapping beat.
The fireworks of the CD are intrusted to the capable hands of Italian contralto Sonia Prina, who coruscates through the coloratura of the low-lying “Come L'onda” from Ottone in Villa with unnerving accuracy and ease. Her da capo ornamentation is fierce and full of bravura, electric and exciting. It is a shame there wasn’t more from Prina on the record.
All in all it is a fascinating exploration of the contralto voice, bringing hidden gems to the fore, while showcasing this rare voice type at its best. Les Contraltos should be on the playlist of any contralto enthusiast.
The latest version of Handel's Tamerlano is blessed with a fantastic collection of performers, including John Mark Ainsley in the difficult role of Bajazet. This is, without doubt, a disc for any Handel lover's collection.
The title role in this production is in the hands of Xavier Sabata, who brings a youthful petulance and spite to Tamerlano's music. His coloratura is both clean and exciting, never thinning out or losing the plummy tone that distinguishes his sound. His contribution to the ensemble pieces is intelligently delivered, and adds much depth to the overall understanding of the character.
As with most roles written for the castrato Sesesino, Andronico lies across the modal/falsetto divide, which can cause difficulties for mezzo and soprano tessitura countertenors. Max Emanuel Cencic has no such difficulty with the role, managing to make the "join" between the voices almost unnoticeable. The fullness of tone in the lower falsetto register makes Cencic's voice a perfect vehicle for the low tessitura of Andronico's arias.
From the opening words of Bajazet's first aria, "Forte e lieto," John Mark Ainsley authoritatively set his mark upon the character. His mellifluous voice has acquired an extra darkness in the lower register over the years, adding a beautiful richness to his sound, yet still possessing that ringing brightness in the upper register which makes his voice instantly recognisable. Ainsley's fierce rendition of "Ciel E Terra Armi Di Sdegno" was as passionate as his tragic performance of the wretched "A' Suoi Piedi" (in which Ainsley drops to an Ab2 in the B-section) was moving. "Empio, per farti guerra" was suitably explosive, while never resorting to barking or disturbing noises. The death scene was the highlight for me, as Ainsley wrenches every last bit of feeling from the score while never over-dramatising.
Karina Gauvin brings an iron strength to the role of Asteria, infusing the character with the determination and force which comes only through suffering. Gauvin's performance is one which comes as a result of a totally committed performance. The highlight of the Canadian soprano's performance must surely be her bewitching rendition of "Cor di padre" - something I will not forget in a hurry!
As mezzo-sopranos go, Ruxandra Donose possesses, like Romina Basso, a darkness of tone which makes her capable of successfully tackling Handel's lighter contralto roles. Her "Par Che Mi Nasca In Seno" was wonderful, with a truly molasses-like low register. The exciting discovery of the recording was, for me, the Russian bass Pavel Kudinov as Leone. His stunning third act aria "Nel mondo e nell' abisso" was crowned by a stunning two octave descent from F4 to F2 at the beginning of the Da Capo.
The orchestra, Il Pomo d'Oro was conducted by Riccardo Minasi, whose clear understanding of the work was apparent from the onset. His choice of tempi and dynamics was appropriate both for the piece, and for the singers at his command.
Straight from the theatres, drinking houses and private drawing-rooms of the 1700’s comes this marvellous collection of Baroque songs, published in a two-volume work entitled “Calliope: Volume the First - English Songbooks of the 1700s”, performed by contralto Emma Curtis and early music group The Frolick.
The music is taken from a songbook called Calliope, which was published in 1739, which contained music by the great men of the day, such as Handel, Purcell, Corelli, Arne, as well as many other lesser known composers. There are drinking songs, love song, laments, and works which were particularly relevant to the events of the day, such as “The Lady's Lamentation for the Loss of Senesino” and “England's Lamentation for the Loss of Farinelli”, a reference to the gradual decline in the number of castrati on England’s shores. The project was conceived by the contralto Emma Curtis, who is the vocalist on the album. Calliope was named as Winner, Best Classical Vocal in 2006 by AllMusic.
Emma Curtis, whose voice was described by Marilyn Horne as “the most contralto Contralto I've heard” sings songs from both the male and female perspective. In The Supplication, Curtis spends practically the whole song in the lower register, which is rich, warm and strong, and presents the listener with a few cavernous E3’s. In A favourite arie from Ariadne, Curtis moves with a beautiful legato through the three registers, and again beguiles us with those wonderful E3’s.
The Early Horn is a boisterous, invigorating jig, which Curtis and the Frolick perform as if at a lively party. Curtis moves across the range with great agility, and ends the piece with a two-octave cadenza from F#3 to F#5. The foot-tapping Cupid and Venus is another song in this vein: the musicians of the Frolick clearly enjoying themselves performing this infectious music.
Nymphs don’t do to well out of Calliope, as one is Forshaken, one Dying, and one Melancholy! The Forshaken Nymph sees Curtis at her most tender, weaving a delicate, mournful sound from her powerhouse contralto. The Dying Nymph is beautifully characterised, the words intimately and heart-rendingly delivered, while The Melancholy Nymph is delivered in salon-style story-telling fashion.
The musicians of the Frolick, playing on period instruments, create an authentic sound, vigorous in the livelier pieces, haunting in the more sombre works. Their interaction with each other and with Curtis is slick, intelligent and engaging. This is a fantastic album, both for lovers of the songs of the Baroque period, and enthusiasts of the contralto voice.
Check out the video below, which contains excerpts of the music from Calliope interspersed with interviews about the album, and also Emma Curtis' pages at the Contralto Corner. Click here to purchase the Album from Amazon.
The release of Catone in Utica marks the midway point in Naïve’s 25 year project: the Vivaldi Edition series. Ann Hallenberg, Sonia Prina, and other stars of the Baroque music world have been assembled under the baton of Alan Curtis, accompanied by Il Complesso Barocco.
Following on from the successes of La fida ninfa, Bajazet and Adelaide, Vivaldi produced this stunning opera as the finale to his time at the Teatro dell’Accademia Filarmonica. He assembled a diverse cast including a local tenor, Cesare Grandi, as Catone, the soprano castrato Giacomo Zaghini as Cesare, and Anna Girò, one of his most faithful collaborators, as Marzia. The result was a stunning opera of which Prince Charles Albert wrote that “Everything gave undiminished delight.” Only acts two and three ofCatone in Utica survive in the archives of the Biblioteca Nationale in Turin. For this recording, Alan Curtus and Alessandro Ciccolini have painstakingly reconstructed act one.
The star of the CD must surely be Swedish mezzo-soprano Ann Hallenberg. Her portrayal of the fiendish role of Emilia is outstanding, both vocally and with respect to characterisation. Hallenberg’s rendition of "O nel sen di qualche stella" is a masterclass in the art of singing. Hallenberg’s rich mezzo blossoms at the top of her range, with never a hint of shrillness, while the low register is full and warm. Listen out for the stunning multiple Bb3’s (Baroque Pitch) in the A section. Her thirst for vengeance in the B section is chilling, and the virtuosity of the extended staccato ornamentation on the word “tiranno” is without parallel.
"Come invano il mare irato" sees Hallenberg sail through over two octaves of Vivaldi’s glorious music, from G3 to B5. The unbelievable virtuosity of the endless runs in the da capo, and the magnificent A Capella C6 in the cadenza, are just two of the many highlights of the aria. Hallenberg utterly dominates the music, showing no fear while being totally immersed in the music. It is clear from this recording that she is one of the finest singers on the world stage today.
Roberta Mameli’s Cesare is something of a revelation. In “Vaga sei nè sdegni tuoi” Mameli relishes the relentless pace of Vivaldi’s tempestuous aria. Her repeated notes in the da capo are perfectly executed: a truly unbelievable performance. In "Se in campo armato", Cesare throws down the gauntlet to Catone in this coloratura-laden aria. Mameli interpolates some exciting staccato ornamentation in da capo.
Another side of Cesare’s character is seen in "Apri le luci e mira." Mameli’s pure lyric soprano weaves a hunting and hypnotic spell in this devastating expression of Cesare’s love. The B section contains some voluptuous vocal writing by Vivaldi, particularly on the extended phrases on the word “fiamma.” "Se mai senti spirarti sul volto lieve" is a much lighter expression of love, and one which, particularly in the A section, presages Mozart. Mameli’s phrasing in this aria is utterly sublime.
The rest of the assembled cast produced some very strong singing. Topi Lehtipuu’s Catone is both energetic and engaging, while Sonia Prina’s Marzia is a delight: full of warmth in the chest register, and desplaying her trademark lightning coloratura in "Se parto, se resto". Romina Basso’s Fulvio was full of fury in "L'ira mia, bella sdegnata", bringing tangible vitriol to the aria, while Emőke Baráth’s Arbace was highly emotional and full of anguish. The accompaniment from Il Complesso Barocco was outstanding, with some surprisingly fierce direction from Alan Curtis.
As part of their ambitious project, the Vivaldi Edition, Naïve have released a second compilation of operatic arias, showcasing the work of the “Red Priest”.
All of the arias are taken from the “Turin treasure,” the collection of 22 operas and around 50 arias preserved in the archives of the National Library of Turin. The arias incorporated into this compilation move throughout the whole spectrum of emotional expression, from fierce tempests to the tenderest expressions of love. The credits list runs like a “who’s Who” of Baroque music, with performers such as Philippe Jaroussky, Nathalie Stutzmann, Sandrine Piau and Jean-Christophe Spinosi.
The collection begins with the fierce “Se lento ancora il fulmine” from Argippo, which was re-discovered relatively recently by Czech harpsichordist and conductor Ondrej Macek in Regensburg. The Italian mezzo-contralto Romina Basso gives an utterly astonishing performance, with her warm voice darkening wildly to infuse the aria with terrible rage.
Sandrine Piau is equally formidable in “Alma oppressa da sorte crudele” from La fida ninfa. The music is very similar to the fiendish “Dominus a Dextris Tuis”, a Tenor aria from Dixit Dominus, RV 807, and gives the singer very little time to breathe. This poses no problems for Piau, whose explosive coloratura cuts through the music like a knife. Particularly stunning is her ornamentation in the da capo, with a string of staccato leaps to C6 (A=415). Jean-Christophe Spinosi’s direction is vigorous, and his decision to highlight the bass pedal with a strong crescendo is highly dramatic.
More fireworks from Russian soprano Julia Lezhneva as she sings “Gelosia” from Ottone in villa. Lezhneva’s rich, plumy soprano moves effortlessly thought the relentless coloratura of the A-section, while tenderly caressing Vivaldi’s beautiful and tragic phrases in the B-section. The 1714 edition ofOrlando furioso has a version of “Nel profondo cieco mondo” for baritone, which is admirably performed by Riccardo Novaro. The music is the most “Handelian” I have heard from Vivaldi. “Alme perfide isegnatemi” from Atenaide provides some punishing writing for the tenor voice, which Stefano Ferrari navigates with immense skill. Mention must also be made of the beautiful pizzicato string playing from Modo Antiquo under the direction of Federico Maria Sardelli in “Cor moi che prigion sei”.
The most ethereal aria on the album is the delicious “Sol da te” from Orlando Furioso. Philippe Jaroussky and Jean-Christophe Spinosi join forces to produce a truly mesmerising performance. Jaroussky is on top form here, producing that clear, tense yet floating tone for which he is famous. His “duet” with the flute is both measured and intense.
Finnish tenor Topi Lehtipuu shines in the lament “Deh ti piega” from La Fida Ninfa. He spins line after line of sensuous legato, moving effortlessly through the registers, producing a whole gamut of rich vocal coloration. The most interesting combination of tone comes in the duet “Che amaro tormento” fromTeuzzone. Here, contralto Delphine Galou and sopranist Paolo Lopez sing their love duet, and it is fascinating hear the high and bright timbre of Lopez interact with Galou’s dark contralto.
This second volume is a fantastic showcase for almost 25 years’ worth of research, recording and rediscovery by Naïve records of Vivaldi’s work. With so many gems here, this is a must-have for any Baroque collector, and a wonderful introduction for anyone looking to dive into the Baroque and Vivaldi for the first time.
Australian countertenor David Hansen’s first solo CD, Rivals: Arias for Farinelli & Co, is an exciting collection of long-forgotten arias from the Baroque period. The selection has been perfectly chosen to showcase his lyric-coloratura voice and his deep understanding of the music of the Baroque period.
Rivals is dominated by the composer Leonardo Vinci, who had the ability to create both stunningly beautiful and fiercely energetic music with the most simple compositional devices. The other composers featured are Leonardo Leo, Giovanni Battista Bononcini and Riccardo Broschi. The arias included were all written for some of the most famous castrati of the day: Farinelli, Caffarelli, Carestini, Bernacchi. Now, thanks to performers such as Hansen, Bartoli, Fagioli and Kermes, these soprano-tessitura arias are again coming to light, wowing audiences both in the concert hall and on disk.
The first aria, “In braccio a mille furie” from Vinci’s Semiramide riconosciuta, is a whirlwind piece, with a high tessitura and runs which move through the whole of the range. Hansen’s laser-like voice is effortlessly clear and on pitch in the high register. Hansen creates a palpable sense of urgency in the B-section, while his ornamentation in the da capo coruscates across the intense accompaniment provided by Alessandro de Marchi and the Academia Montis Regalis. The second aria from Vinci, “Sento due fiamme in petto” from Il Medo, showcases Hansen’s excellent support and technique, as he moves through the languid phrases with grace and tenderness. His pause on the leading note at the end of the cadenza at the start of the da capo is sublime.
Two more arias come from Vinci’s Il Medo. “Non è più folle lusinga” is a slow aria with a very scaled-back accompaniment, which leaves Hansen’s voice exposed, particularly in the high register. His tone is never squeezed, always restrained and fully supported. The tessitura of “Taci o di morte” is firmly in the alto range, and here Hansen shows his technique in the lower falsetto register and the modulation in and out of the modal voice over the course of a legato phrase. The final offering from Vinci is “Risveglia lo sdegno” from Alessandro. This is a foot-stomping extravaganza, complete with horns and timpani, Hansen positively revels in the coloratura and arpeggios, powering through them with a truly heroic sound.
Leonardo Leo is represented by two arias. The first, “Talor che irato è il vento” from Andromaca, contains Leo’s trademark leaps to A5 and B5, and long phrases which leap throughout the range, which Hansen execute with frightening ease. “Freme orgogliosa l'onda” from Demetrio is a hellishly difficult aria, with several awkward intervals, a phrase consisting of octave leaps up to and down from B5, and many transitions into the low register. This is definitely one of the best arias on the CD. Bononcini’s “Cara Sposa” from Griselda is a typical love aria of the period. Hansen’s voice floats ethereally above the continuo, and weaves like a gossamer thread through the accompanying upper strings.
But the highlight of the album is Broschi’s “Son qual nave”. This version, which was rediscovered in an archive in Vienna, has Farinelli’s own ornamentation marked in his own hand, and Rivals presents it as a world premier recording. It also includes two horns, a completely new B-section, and several changes to the composition of the A-section for both voice and orchestra. With an astounding range, unending lines of coloratura, and many rubato phrases, this is most definitely a show-stopping extravaganza of an aria, and a true indication both of the vocal prowess of the castrati, and of Hansen.
The new CD from Naïve records is a stunning collection of arias written for the star castrato Caffarelli. Performed by the Argentinian countertenor Franco Fagioli and Il Pomo d'Oro, led by Riccardo Minasi, it is packed with world-premier recordings.
The CD begins with the astonishing “Fra L'orror Della Tempesta” from Johann Adolf Hasse’s Siroe. Fagioli’s formidable virtuosity is on display from the onset, ascending the first of several A5’s at the beginning of the second phrase. The punishing tessitura would be unmanageable for many singers, yet Fagioli seems to revel in the high phrases. His navigation of the four consecutive trilled A5’s in the A section is a delight to listen to. In the second Hasse offering, “Ebbi Da Te La Vita”, Fagioli’s incredible legato and support come to the fore, each phrase handled tenderly.
From the opening fanfare of Vinci’s “In Braccio a Mille Furie” it is clear that this aria is going to blow the listener’s socks off. Fagioli spins a furious dance across nearly two octaves, running seamlessly from D4 (the only note Fagioli modulates into the modal voice to sing) and A5 and B5. Leonardo Leo’s “Misero Pargoletto” is a tense, atmospheric piece, which Fagioli performs with intelligent choices in both dynamics and tempi. By sustaining a slow pace throughout the aria, he envelops the listener in the fluidic texture of the composition, in a similar mannaer to Bartoli in arias such as “Sposa, non mi conosci”.
More fireworks abound in the frenetic “Un cor che ben ama” from Domenico Sarro’s Valdemaro. Mention must be made of the spectacular virtuosity of the trumpet playing in the aria. The maturity and depth in Pergolesi’s “Lieto cosi talvolta” is apparent from the opening few bars. Following the showy spectacle of the previous aria, “Lieto cosi tavolta” allows us to admire Fagioli’s ability to turn the simplicity of Pergolesi’s line into a masterclass of breath-control, technique, and beautiful, exposed high notes.
In “Sperai vicino il lido”, Leonardo Leo alternates between pensive slow phrases, and speedy virtuosic passages. Fagioli navigates these changes well, with some stunning register shifts as he masterfully dominates the aria’s wide vocal range. By far the most elegant aria on the album is the pensive “Rendimi più sereno” by Cafaro. Fagioli plays on the pastoral feel of the aria, weaving a sumptuous fabric of tonal colour and phrasing. The showy and ebullient “Passaggier che sulla sponda” by Porpora has Fagioli leaping across his vast vocal range with tremendous precision and impeccable tonal integrity.
Beginning with a beautiful messa di voce, the high tessitura of Manna’s “Cara ti lascio, addio” is a showcase for Fagioli’s tremendous and well supported high falsetto range. His light touches on the dissociated high notes in the longer phrases are deliciously tender, never resorting to breathiness or tightening the tone. Finally, as if to rid the listener of any doubt to Cafferelli’s supreme skill and obvious dominance in the Baroque world, Fagioli finishes the CD with the astounding “Odo il suono di tromba guerriera”, also by Manna. Sailing up to a B5 in the first minute and a half, the whole aria is a stunning finale showcasing the sheer breadth and stamina of Fagioli’s voice. The da capo sees him descend to a fierce E3 in the modal voice, which seems more like a contralto’s lower register than the “second voice” of the countertenor, and soar up to D6 (A-415) in the final cadenza.
This is a must have for any countertenor fan, and an amazing addition to the collections already existent which form part of the ongoing Baroque music revival. With this fantastic CD, Fagioli does indeed redefine the capabilities of the countertenor voice.