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A-Mused – Part One

In Classical Music, Opera, Review on August 26, 2014 at 4:40 pm

Review – Semiramide – La Signora Regale (Anna Bonitatibus, La Stagione Armonica, Academia degli Astrusi, Federico Ferri)

Two exquisite albums inspired by two very different women – both real but worlds apart.

In the first, the muse is ancient Semiramis. Depending on who and what you read, either she was a noble Queen and subsequent Assyrian Regent, a murderer or an (almost) incestuous mother. But regardless of what or who she was, she inspired some incredible music.

In a very well chosen and balanced recital, Anna Bonitatibus selects music from Caldara and Porpora via composers such as Traetta and Meyerbeer to that better-known opera by Rossini. En route, she also performs music by the likes of Francesco Bianchi, Sebastiano Nasolini and Manuel García.

Once again the current vogue for dusting off lesser-known composers has paid off with the added bonus of an incredibly well researched booklet that accompanies the disc.

I have only one regret when I listen to this album – that I didn’t get the chance to hear Ms Bonitatibus recently as Cherubino at Covent Garden. She has an elegant, flexible and beautifully balanced mezzo. Brightly focused, there is a precise and even agility to her voice as well as a pleasing and beautifully controlled vibrato – a rarity among singers – that gives her voice a very appealing texture in terms of both warmth and depth that is perfectly suited to the range of emotions required in these selections.

But the most incredible thing about this recital is the sheer sense of joy and musicianship that Ms Bonitatibus communicates in every aria. As you would expect there is more than a fair amount of coloratura in this music that she delivers with aplomb from the start as in Povera navicella from Caldara’s Semiramide in Ascalona or with great delicacy as in Meyerbeer’s Più non si tardi… Il piacer, la gioia scenda with its obbligato harp. But the recital is not without its more ‘pathetic’ music. Andrea Bernasconi’s Ah non è vano il pianto and Paisiello’s Serbo in seno il cor piagato are typical of the period with their sighing phrases and elegantly styled legato vocal lines, spun with incredible finesse and interpretative intelligence by Ms Bonitatibus. And in these arias – and throughout the recital – her attention to ornamentation in the returning da capos is both sensitive and stylish.

However, the highlight for me is Traetta’s Il pastor se torna aprile. With its violin obbligato – and almost Mozartian swagger – Ms Bonitatibus sings not only with incredible precision through the coloratura, but also with a real sense of verve. Traetta might have been an opera reformist and here – despite the overt virtuosity that he writes, its worth noting how the composer writes a shortened da capo, but then can’t resist two cadenzas, one for each soloist. Clearly his own muse inspired this incredible aria and with music of this quality and performed to such as high standard but both soloists, you can forgive Traetta for stopping the drama for almost ten minutes.

Almost thirty years later, Nasolini wrote a well-constructed scena with chorus that looks forward to composers such as Rossini. With its imposing brass and sonorous choral singing, it makes quite an impact, as does Rossini’s famous scena Serena i vaghi rai… Bel raggio lusinghier. And it is in the latter that Ms Bonitatibus’ controlled use of vibrato is thrilling as she spins out the vocal line.

The album proper ends with Già il perfido discese… Al mio pregar t’arrendi from Manuel García’s Semiramis, first performed in Mexico. Following a darkly-hued accompagnato, García pens an eloquent and darkly sonorous preghiera accompanied by wind only

Generously the album also includes three extra tracks – all from Semiramide riconosciuta – but drawing on three different composers. First, the aria Fuggi dagl’occhi miei, composed by Handel and Gluck respectively, and then Salieri’s overture to his opera of the same title. It’s interesting to listen to how Handel and Gluck approached the same aria differently – for me Handel has just a little more emotional intensity. But again both are impeccably performed.

Under the direction of Federico Ferri, La Stagione Armonico and the Academia degli Astrusi perform with great finesse and sensitivity throughout. In the arias Ferri finds a broad range of sonorities and balances for each composer. Listen to the brass in Nasolini and the wind in García for example, the lightness of touch in the Caldara, the breadth of sound in the Traetta or the warmth that he draws from the strings in the Bernasconi. And of the instrumental pieces, enjoy the delicacy of the moto perpetuo in Catel’s dance.

Beautifully performed and lovingly researched, this is an album to savour.

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  1. […] with my previous blog, this recital dispels an often commonly-held belief – that French baroque and early Classical […]

  2. […] especial mention must go to Anna Bonitatibus and her inspired recital built around Queen Semiramis. This is simply a joyous album featuring […]

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