Handel’s Last Prima Donna: Giulia Frasi in London
Arias from Handel: Theodora; Susanna; The Choice of Hercules; Jephtha; Solomon; Arne: Artaxerxes; Alfred; Ciampi: L’Adriano; Il trionfo di Camilla; P Hayes: Telemachus; JC Smith: Paradise Lost; Rebecca
Ruby Hughes (soprano); Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment/Laurence Cummings
Chaconne CHSA 0403
Prima donna Giulia Frasi (1740-74) was well known to London’s concertgoers.
Celebrated for oratorio rather than opera roles, her cool virtuosity made her a favourite. This recording celebrates not only Handel’s music for Frasi, but that of a host of lesser- known composers.
Ruby Hughes’s vocalism fits Frasi’s song perfectly. Arias by Hayes, Ciampi, and JC Smith – all recorded for the first time – are often simple in their design, but demand total control. The pure- toned Hughes achieves this with ease and fresh-faced candour. The aria from Milton’s Paradise Lost, set by Smith in 1760, is unmissable: as the bass creeps forward to the words ‘Oh! Do not, Adam, exercise on me thy hatred,’ Hughes sighs out her heart-break and subtly adjusts her colours to match those of the solo instrument playing with her. The programme’s only dud is Ciampi’s Camilla aria. Even rude horns can’t inject interest into this number’s fake furioso, whose top notes Hughes repeatedly hurls out with diminishing affective returns.
Laurence Cummings turns even the rawest musical material into gold. The execution of the band, drawn from the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, is always ravishing, although the players’ poise sometimes borders on aloofness. Still, this disc is a treat, illuminating why Frasi and her music commanded a huge following.