Contralto, Sonia Prina returned to the Wigmore Hall after her phenomenal debut to perform arias composed by G. F. Handel for the star castrato Senesino. Handel wrote many heroic roles for Senesino, a man noted for his fiery temperament, each playing to the castrato’s wonderfully rich lower register and to his ability to sing “allegros with great fire, and marked rapid divisions, from the chest, in an articulate and pleasing manner”. Sonia Prina’s amazing technique, and her willingness to explore the lower register of the contralto voice, made her performance a unanimous success: she is truly the Heir to Senesino!
Prina chose three intense yet emotionally diverse slow arias in the program. In the first, “Ombra cara” from Radamisto, Prina wove a tale of loss and revenge, her dark voice full of despair and wretched vengeance. In “Pompe vane… Dove sei” from Rodelinda, Prina’s astounding breath control and rich tone imbued the aria with a deep sense of longing.
The hypnotic orchestration of “Cara sposa” from Rinaldo, was chillingly delivered by Luca Pianca's Ensemble Claudiana, solidly underpinning Prina’s emotionally devastating delivery. The contrast between the tempi of the A and B sections worked very well, demonstrating the conflicting emotions of the aria.
Of the five bravura arias which made up the majority of the program, and the whole of the encores, I must make special mention of the first, “Furibondo spira il vento” from Partenope. Prina’s technique and delivery of the rapid coloratura passages electrified the audience. It was the best performance of this aria I have heard.
“Empio, dirò, tu sei” from Giulio Cesare, which was performed both in the first half of the recital, and as the final encore, was truly furious. Prina strutted about the stage, dominating the aria from beginning to end. Her G3 at the end of the B section, and the F3 at the end of the da capo, were utterly brilliant.
Bertarido’s “Vivi Tiranno” from Rodelinda saw Prina in triumphant form, revelling in Handel’s superb composition, while “Venti Turbini” from Rinaldo saw her deliver the longs lines of semiquavers with frightening assurance. “Se fiera belva ha cinto” from Rodelinda was a much jollier affair, with Prina and Ensemble Claudiana having a great deal of fun in its performance.
The highlight of the concert was the tremendous performance of the two pieces from Orlando: “Cielo! se tu il consenti” and “Ah Stigie larve”. In the first aria, Prina took the triplet phrases at blistering speed, while her characterisation in the second, the Mad scene from Orlando, was so authentic and riveting that it elicited a roar of approval from the audience.
The orchestral offerings from Ensemble Claudiana came mainly from Theodora: the Overture, the Larghetto and the Courante. In a change from the program, we were treated to Handel’s Passacaglia Op. 5, Mvt. 4. Each was performed with skill and intelligence, the small ensemble able to tease new meaning out of the familiar pieces. From start to finish the Ensemble, with Luca Pianca at the helm, performed magnificently, their intelligent craftsmanship and nuanced performance both supporting and complementing Prina's Olympian performance.
© James Edward Hughes 2014