Arias for Senesino
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|4. Stelle Ingrate (Albinoni - Astarto)|
|5. Selvagge Amenit` (Albinoni - Engelberta)|
|6. Discordi Pensier (Lotti - Teofane)|
|7. Del Ciel Sui Giri (Scarlatti - Carlo Re d'Allemagna)|
|8. Fosti Caro (Lotti - Gli Odi Delusi Dal Sangue)|
|9. Recitativo Accompagnato: Dall'ondoso Periglio... (Handel - Giulio Cesare)|
|10. Aure, Deh, Per Piet` (Handel - Giulio Cesare)|
|11. Al Lampo Dell' Armi (Handel - Giulio Cesare)|
|12. Cara Sposa (Handel - Rinaldo)|
|13. Va' Per Le Vene Il Sangue (Porpora - Il Trionfo Di Camilla)|
Senesino, the voice that inspired Handel's greatest operas showpiece arias by Handel, Lotti, Albinoni, Porpora and Scarlatti. One of the truly outstanding voices of today, star countertenor Andreas Scholl celebrates one of the 18th Century's greatest vocal superstars - the remarkable male alto known as Senesino. Senesino's place in history was secured by his extraordinary association with Handel, who after travelling to Dresden to hear him, brought him to London to join his Italian Opera Company - where he was greatly celebrated by the public, and much admired by the ladies. Inspired by this unique singer, Handel wrote for him a dazzling succession of operatic roles which showcased the beauty and power of his extraordinary vocal personality. Scholl's exquisite voice, beloved of critics and audiences, pure, penetrating, virtuosic and deeply characterful, is a remarkable match for the voice of Senesino.
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Scholl, along with American David Daniels, has been most responsible in the last decade or so for popularising the operas of Handel, and tackling the castrato roles that many thought previously were too difficult for modern singers to cope with. Here he sings a programme of arias created (in the most part) for the castrato Francesco Bernardi, known as Senesino. Arias from various stages of Senesino's career are represented here, though there is a major bias to the Handelian operas of the mid-1720s period - Rodelinda and Giulio Cesare. But, there are also arias from Albinoni, Lotti and Alessandro Scarlatti, tohgether with the last aria thought to have been sung by Senesino - Porpora's 'Va' per le vene il sangue'.
Scholl has recorded most of the Handel arias before for both Harmonia Mundi and Decca, except the opening aria Bel Contento from Flavio. His singing here is delightful and his ornamentation understated but interesting. Similarly, his mature interpretation of the scenes from Rodelinda and Giulio Cesare shows his experience of both roles in the theatre, and while the voice perhaps has lost a bit of that 'purity' in the highest notes, his attention to the text is absorbing. Al Lampo dell'armi is thrilling at breakneck speed but is perhaps not the best example of this type of aria written for Senesino. Why Cara Sposa is included, written as it was for an earlier singer Nicolini, is slightly unclear, except as a piece of marketing, but it is the least effective aria which fits Daniels' voice more readily than Scholl's.
The best singing, and playing comes in the non Handel arias. Here Scholl has the chance to show off his remarkable voice to better effect - the highlight is probably the last aria from Porpora - and the others all make one wish for recordings of the operas they come from. Many of these are recorded for the first time.
If one is looking for a more rounded view of Senesino's vocal qualities then pick up Nick McGegan and Drew Minter's disc. Scholl fans will buy this disc because of his voice, and newcomers will be interested all the more because of his Last Night at the Proms debut in September.
However, after listening to this collection several times, I feel it simply lacks punch. The unearthly, angelic beauty of Scholl's voice, coupled with impeccable technique- great runs and what a perfect messa di voce- all this makes for intensely lovely listening experience, yet in many places it is just perfectly beautiful and perfectly boring. I was expecting a little bit more from him this time, but there were many moments when I caught myself bypassing Scholl's voice and tuning my ears to the splendid playing of Accademia Bizantina orchestra instead. I was very taken with his Heroes album, where he gave us great versions of several operatic arias and I was hoping he would scale up the drama here, but when it comes to the work in the recording studio, he's not there yet.
Few arias, notably the ones not written by Handel, show some dramatic colors: Albinoni's Stelle ingrate where Scholl cruises closely to his baritone register, Lotti's Discordi pensieri, and the final aria by Porpora. And old chestnuts like Dove Sei are finally here, but the one I was hoping would be ideal for Scholl, the great Cara Sposa, sounds underpowered. Cara Sposa is for countertenors what O Mio Babbino Caro is for sopranos, most of them get to do it at some point, but this version is just nice, and that's not good enough coming from Mr Rolls Royce of Countertenors. It's smooth and beautiful but then it would be hard to find a piece of music that would not sound beautiful when sung by Scholl. In terms of expressing anything other than the placid loveliness, it has some ways to go.
As a start for Scholl's adventures on Senesino trail, this album also comes short. The selection of arias is a mixed bag, stylistically uneven and not very inspired. Some of these arias are recorded for the first time, points for that, but in these days, many artists go directly to manuscripts and then sell these finds to us with lot more conviction. Also, Scholl's ornamentations are so elegant and understated that they hardly register. The album cover shows a picture of him looking as adorably dorky as usual, but I would like a splash of Senesino's primadonna antics and drama queen persona for a change. More energy, a touch of the divine insanity that Cecilia Bartoli brings to her versions of castrato showpieces... Now that David Daniels and Bejun Mehta have shown us how brilliant countertenors can be in Baroque operas, I wish Scholl would go for broke himself and gave us vivid, absorbing interpretations of these great arias.
If you love Scholl's voice, this album will showcase it very nicely, but don't expect much more than this.
Unfortunately the program simply demands a more vivid expression of emotional catharsis than Scholl is willing to share here, and the problem is further compounded by the sheer familiarity of the pieces within the context of the highly charged stories within the operas. A good example of this gap is his version of Bertarido's character-defining lament from "Rodelinda", "Pompe vane di morte! ... Dove sei, amato bene, which sounds far more like an angelic hymn than the melancholy plea of a deposed king. The same lack of awareness for the dramatic text mars his relatively colorless performance of "Dall'ondoso periglio ... Aure, deh per pieta" from "Giulio Cesare" where one has little idea that his character is grieving perhaps prematurely over the loss of a loved one. However, Scholl brings more fire to his rendition of "Al lampo dell'armi" from the same opera. He is also more accomplished on Rinaldo's famous lament, "Cara sposa, amante cara, dove sei?", where the more unfettered romanticism seems more up his alley.
Surprisingly, there is more variety to be experienced with the non-Handel selections - a nice burst of energy on "Stelle ingrate" from Tomaso Albinoni's "Astarto"; a regal "Del ciel sui giri" from Scarlatti's "Carlo re a'Allemagna" with an extended introduction made stirring by the powerful combination of period horns and strings; and the closing track, a truly lovely version of Nicola Popora's "Va per le vene il sangue" from "Il trionfo di Camilla". My favorite of these is "Discordi pensieri" from Antonio Lotti's "Teofane", which seems to play to Scholl's primary strength in evoking lyrical moods rather than dramatic ones. With all the non-Handel selections, he seems less saddled with preconceptions of how the role should be played since the pieces are far less familiar to contemporary audiences.
Led by Ottavio Dantone, who plays the harpsichord with expert precision, the Accademia Bizantina perform the period instruments with genuine feeling, sometimes overwhelming the singer himself. Scholl is a top-rank vocal talent, and aside from the astounding Daniels, the only one who has the leverage to expand the countertenor repertoire. That's why the tinge of "Handel's Greatest Opera Hits" in this recording gives a sense of artistic compromise that highlights Scholl's still evolving abilities for dramatic interpretation. I also think he could have benefited from following soprano Sandrine Piau's example with her stunning "Handel Opera Seria" or mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli's recent masterwork, the impressive "Opera Proibita". In expanding the horizons of Baroque music, both singers chose more obscure - though equally beautiful - selections whether from Handel or his brethren. Otherwise this is simply a performance exalting in its beauty but limited by its commercial sense and lacking the resonance to linger further in one's memory.
Apparently, the producer of Decca is not totally aware of Senesino's outputs and included even Cara Sposa from Rinaldo, a piece sung by Nicolini.
Scholl's coloratura technique is truly formidable, and he takes them in an utterly understated manner, in marked contrast to Cecilia Bartoli. Scholl never breaks a musical line, or 'melo-dramatizes' a piece, which is very much in line with the traditional baroque school, as contrasted with the modern baroque development of break-neck tempi, melo-dramatic outbursts, overly loud pronuncements, which are not the traditional mode of interpretation of baroque works.
One should, therefore, take care not to fault the interpretor for this more traditional approach.
Nor should one dismiss this album as 'boring'; the choice offers a much varied selection of differing moods in a wide palate of baroque colourings from Handel, Lotti, A. Scarlatti, Albinoni, et. al.
Perhaps one would hope that Scholl chose more pieces by A. Scarlatti and Porpora to further balance out the contents of this otherwise impeccably good album of Italian baroque arias.
The last Scholl recital, Arcadia, featured arias by lesser-known baroque composers. This time around, it seems that Decca wanted a recital that had broader appeal, hence the idea of a Senesino tribute.
The recital begins with two Handel arias, the first being Bel Contento. This is the Scholl we all know and love, his voice as lovely as the springtime. His ravishing tonal beauty is in abundance, and the Accademica Bizantina provides wonderful support.
After such a nice introduction, Scholl coasts through Pompe Vane / Dove Sei?, undoing some of his faultless technique through some rather bland, white-voiced singing. To hear the full potential of this aria, we must turn to Marilyn Horne's interpretation. If you have the chance, listen to her exquisite, fluttering recording of the aria, so different from the go-for-broke Marilyn to whom we are so accustomed.
Scholl is undoubtedly more excited at the prospect of capturing the non-Handel arias. For this reason, he really catches fire in Stelle Ingrate. One of Scholl's greatest vocal qualities is his peerless staccato trill, and Stelle Ingrate is the perfect vehicle to wow us with. We also get more of a sense of his vocal heft. Thankfully, we have a block of five non-Handel arias that are infinitely better for his voice. My other favorite is Del Ciel Sui Giri. The extended introduction is a fascinating blend of horns and strings, showcasing Accademica Bizantina's talents. In the aria proper, Scholl treats us to some amazing, rapid passagework in the repeat of the A part. This is, hands down, the reason I adore Scholl so much.
Scholl revisits Handel with Dall'ondoso Periglio / Aure, Deh, Per Pieta. His delivery of the recitative is more dramatic than before, especially on phrases such as, "Voi dite che io son morto!" Also, he uses a lower register, to thrilling effect. Unfortunately, he confounds us in the aria section. Attempting to sound more dramatic, his fits of excitement keep yielding to that all-purpose beauty that seems to plague him in Handel. In all fairness, this is still Scholl, but it frustrating to hear him hint at dramatic prowess, without taking the plunge.
Al Lampo Dell'Armi is taken at a lightening-quick pace. This would not work on stage, but in the confines of a recital, it becomes a vanity piece for which to showcase again his almighty staccato trill. It beguiles you to hear Scholl unfazed, even at such quick tempi. The purists will cry foul; I, for one, do not think of baroque music as a sacred cow. A little experimentation now and then, in the hands of such a gifted singer, is not a bad thing.
Unfortunately, this bit of bravura is followed by the clunker of the whole set, Cara Sposa. Granted, many great artists have recorded well-known arias that were not suited for their voice, against better judgement. I think of Maria Callas singing the bolero from I Vespri Siciliani, Birgit Nilsson singing O Don Fatale, or Joan Sutherland singing the Queen of the Night's first aria. Such recordings are for the fans only. I, for one, cannot suspend disbelief, where Scholl and Cara Sposa are concerned. In fact, I have yet to listen to the whole of the aria. It doesn't help matters that the PI support is so cautious and polite. Gimme Marilyn Horne, folks!
Thankfully, that woefully misguided interpretation is followed by the melancholy Va Per Le Vene Il Sangue. Again, we are given evidence of how divine Scholl can be when an aria inspires him.