Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Music: Divining Two Divas

The Prima Donna, First Lady is the showstopping female singer in an opera, more often than not the leading soprano, but if a mezzo soprano roll is overwhelming enough, she may be the Prima Donna of a performance. No matter here. We are considering two singers at the top of their craft and repertoire. This must be how the angels sing.

Sandrine Piau
Mozart Opera Arias

Mozart Opera Arias is a recent collection of operatic compositions for soprano voice by French singer Sandrine Piau. Miss Piau’s previous recording was her splendid addressing Handel bel canto arias, GF Haendel: Opera Seria, (Naive 8894, 2004). Of a spate of Handel opera aria releases since 2000, Opera Seria is perfect in all elements: repertoire, accompaniment, and voice - above all, voice.

I eagerly awaited the release of Miss Piau's collection of Mozart soprano opera arias. That wait supports the value of the delayed gratification I learned as part of my parochial education as the soprano easily equaled her Handel collection in all respects. Miss Piau's vocal approach to Mozart and the repertoire she shose for the recording are fresh as Spring. There are few warhorses here, only new treasures to be discovered.

Miss Piau’s singing is characterized by a ravishing, intelligent, virtuosity. Her voice is petite, sharply focused, and perfectly centered with impressive balance over her entire vocal range. Miss Piau’s control and articulation is solid and centered, illustrated perfectly on the selections from Lucio Silla, K 135: In un istante...Parto, m'affretto and from La clemenza di Tito, K 621: "S'altro che lacrime." Her orchestral accompaniment is thoughtfully historically informed, with perfect sonics. Like her GF Haendel: Opera Seria, Mozart Opera Arias can simply not be made better in any way.

Cecilia Bartoli
Opera Proibita
Decca Classics

Mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli has shaken the classical vocal world to the core with her theme-driven releases beginning with her Vivaldi Album (Decca 466569, 1999); proceeding through Gluck: Dreams and Fables - Gluck: Italian Opera Arias (Decca 467248, 2001); culminating in her superb Cecilia Bartoli - The Salieri Album (Decca 000109702, 2003). Miss Bartoli’s first solo recital in two years is as sharply focused as her three previous efforts. Opera Proibita is a collection of operatic pieces composed by Handel, Alessandro Scarlatti, and Antonio Caldara that were viewed without favor by the current Papal powers-that-be (specifically Clement XI). For the better part of the first decade of the 18th century, dramatic theatre performances, believed to be places of evil and immorality, were forbidden in Rome. That left opera composers of the ilk of Scarlatti the greater, Caldara, and Handel in quite a pickle.

After retooling their craft, these composers began composing religious oratorios • dramas with no stage action on religious subjects • typically providing arias for all vocal parts and chorus. The composers also wrote devilishly difficult pieces as any they might have penned for the stage, thumbing their collective noses at the Papal Throne. The music, while not mainstream and perhaps because of this, is a welcome addition to digital media. Miss Bartoli is in very fine form and the music selected is ravishing, beautifully arranged and performed by Marc Minkowski and his period instrument group, Les Musiciens du Louvre.

Tracks and Personnel

Sandrine Piau - Mozart Opera Arias

Tracks: 1. Lucio Sillia: In un istante oh come; Lucio Sillia: Parto, m'affreto; Die Zauberflote: Ach, ich fuhl's; Il re pastore: oh Dio mi vedi; Mitradite, re di Ponto: Grazie ai numi parti; Mitradite, re di Ponto: Nel grave tormento; Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail: Welcher Wechsel; Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail: Traurigkeit ward mir zum Lose; Lucio Sillia: Vanne, t'affretta; Lucio Sillia: Ah se il crudel periglio; La clemenza di Tito: S'altro che lagrime; Mitradite, re di Ponto: Al destin, che la minaccia; Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail: Ach, ich liebte, war so glucklich; Zaide: Ruhe sanft, mein holdes leben.

Personnel: Sandrine Piau: Soprano Voice; Freiburger Barockorchester, Gottfried von der Goltz

Cecilia Bartoli - Opera Proibita

Tracks: All'arme si accesi guerrieri (Aria dell Pace); Mentre io godo (Aria della Speranza); Un pensiero nemico di pace; Vanne pentita a piangere; Sparga il senso lascivo veleno; Caldo Sangue; Come nembo che fugge col vento; Ecco negl'orti tuoi...Che dolce simpatico; Qui resta...L'alta Roma; Lascia la spina cogli la rosa; Ahi qual cordoglio...Doppio affetto; Si piangete pupille dolente; Ahi quanto cieca..Come foco allo splendore; Disserratevi oh porte d'Averno; Notte funesta...Ferma l'ali;.

Personnel: Cecilia Bartoli: mezzo-soprano voice; Les Musiciens du Louvre, Marc Minkowski.

© Copyright, C. Michael Bailey, 2006