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Review – Prima Donna. Vivaldi Arias (Nathalie Stutzmann & Orfeo 55)

In Baroque, Classical Music, Opera, Review, Vivaldi on August 18, 2011 at 7:25 am

Anyone not acquainted with French contralto Nathalie Stutzmann should immediately listen to her performance of Brahms’ Alto Rhapsodie (Op. 53) with John Elliott-Gardiner. From her first entry at Aber abseits wer ist’s?, through her wonderful control when the male chorus enters at Ist auf Deo em Psalter, to the final pleading with so enquicke Seinfeld Herz! will immediately know that Ms Stutzmann is an artist of great talent, intelligence and refinement. And similarly her performances and recordings of music by Handel and Bach through to Schumann, Schubert, Mahler and beyond show a similar dedication to attention to detail and the highest performance standards.

Together with Orfeo 55, the original ensemble that she founded in 2009, Ms Stutzmann has recorded a disc of Vivaldi arias and instrumental pieces from his opera and oratorios. Aptly named Prima Donna, the arias are those written for specific singers – Chiara Stella Cenacchi, Angela Zanucchi, AnnaVincenza Dotti, Anna Maria Fabri and Maria-Maddalena Pieri – as well as the more normal castrati.

The accompanying notes claim that Vivaldi himself loved the contralto voice and while he is not – in my opinion – a great opera composer, individual arias on recital discs such as this can make for an argument for ‘one more go’ but currently I struggle to sit through any of his operas in its entirety. On the whole I find a lack of diversity or invention in the arias as well as a lack of either characterisation or emotional intensity that you find in Handel for example. Here, where individual arias are specifically selected because they stand out among the plethora in a single work, their impact is all the greater.

For her disc, Ms Stutzmann has chosen carefully and produced a balanced recital that for me certainly, might lead me to reconsider Vivaldi’s operatic credentials.

The opening aria is certainly a curtain raiser. With its typical string figurations, Agitata infido flatu from Juditha Triumphans is also one of the more commonly performed Vivaldi arias and she confidently handles both the chromatic line and veers away from an overtly florid da capo. Similarly the florid La gloria del mio sangue (Tieteberga) with its oboe obbligati demonstrates not only her ability to negotiate Vivaldi’s coloratura but also exhibits her range as she dips down to her wonderfully resonant chest voice. In Gemo in un punto e tremo (L’Olimpiade) she revels in the words of the text above more typically Vivaldi figuration.

Throughout the recital Ms Stutzmann demonstrates an absolute control of Vivaldi’s arching vocal lines in the slower numbers. Io sento in questo seno (Arsilda Regina di Ponto) supported by elegant playing from Orfeo 55 shows, for example, of how Ms Stutzmann avoids a common pitfall of some more recent baroque and classical vocal recitals – wild, over the top ornamentation with the da capo return. Throughout she applies an intelligent level of ornamentation that not only provides variety but heightens the emotion without being distracting.

The pizzicato accompaniment in both Sento in seno ch’io pioggia di lagrime (Il Giustino) and Cor mio, che progion sei (Atenaide) certainly demonstrate that Vivaldi could provide orchestral colour and in the same way Ho hel petto un cor si forte from (Il Giustino) and Transit aetas (Juditha Triumphans) feature delicate mandolin playing. Indeed, in the latter you can also feel time and years flying away.

Sovvente il sole is certainly one of the disc’s highlights and the sleeve note speculates that perhaps Il Prete Rosso played the violin solo himself. Written as an insertion aria for the serenata Andromeda liberata, it is one of the longer, more emotionally substantial arias on the disc, clearly to showcase Vivaldi’s talents as opposed to the other composers involved. Throughout singer and violinist entwine in delicate counterpoint and thirds and sixths throughout, resulting in a mesmerising performance.

The Lombardy rhythms of Vincerà l’aspro mio fatto (Semiramide) with the unusual addition of horns tom add to the martial effect and the vigorous rhythms of the final aria Cara gioia e bel diletto (Arsilda Regina di Ponto) complete with recorder and tambourine that intensify and highlight the love felt by the protagonist, again help lift Vivaldi’s operatic credentials and are performed with suitable enthusiasm by one and all.

Throughout Orfeo 55 – including in their own orchestral numbers – provide enthusiastic, direct and warm playing for Ms Stutzmann. Its certainly a disc worth buying even if by the end of the disc I am still not entirely convinced that Vivaldi’s opera arias are as well crafted as those he wrote in some of his sacred pieces. Yet Ms Stutzmann makes a credible case for reconsideration but like Magdalena Kozená’s equally accomplished disc of Vivaldi arias – which does, I admit, include some pretty impressive numbers – ultimately it fails to convince me overall that I should return and listen to complete Vivaldi operas wholesale. Pace.

However, for the passion and intelligence of Ms Stutzmann and Orfeo 55 alone this is a disc worth acquiring for repeatedly listening.

Related Blogs:
1. Review – The Beauty of Baroque. Danielle de Niese, The English Concert/Harry Bickett
2. When Less Can Be More

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  2. Review – Prima Donna. Vivaldi Arias (Nathalie Stutzmann & Orfeo 55) lietofinelondon is an amazing share. Thank you for this article.

  3. […] Reading 1. An Invigorating Dasch Through Mozart. Enjoyment Assured. 2. Review – Prima Donna. Vivaldi Arias (Nathalie Stutzmann & Orfeo 55) Share this:ShareDiggFacebookRedditStumbleUponTwitterLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

  4. […] Washington DC I seized the opportunity to see her in concert. I have her recital CDs of Handel and Vivaldi as well as her performance of Brahms’ Alton Rhapsody. For me she has always been the most […]

  5. […] « Throughout the recital Ms Stutzmann demonstrates an absolute control of Vivaldi’s arching vocal lines in the slower numbers. Io sento in questo seno (Arsilda Regina di Ponto) supported by elegant playing from Orfeo 55 shows, for example, of how Ms Stutzmann avoids a common pitfall of some more recent baroque and classical vocal recitals – wild, over the top ornamentation with the da capo return. Throughout she applies an intelligent level of ornamentation that not only provides variety but heightens the emotion without being distracting. » Lie to fine London, (Grande-Bretagne), 18 août 2011 […]

  6. […] « Throughout the recital Ms Stutzmann demonstrates an absolute control of Vivaldi’s arching vocal lines in the slower numbers. Io sento in questo seno (Arsilda Regina di Ponto) supported by elegant playing from Orfeo 55 shows, for example, of how Ms Stutzmann avoids a common pitfall of some more recent baroque and classical vocal recitals – wild, over the top ornamentation with the da capo return. Throughout she applies an intelligent level of ornamentation that not only provides variety but heightens the emotion without being distracting. » Lie to fine London, (Great-Britain), August 18th, 2011 […]

  7. […] two solo cantatas were written for – but I can think of no finer performances than these by Nathalie Stutzmann and Lorraine Hunt […]

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