Serpent & Fire: Arias for Dido & Cleopatra

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Castrovillari,Cavalli,Graupner,Handel,Hasse,Locke,Purcell,Sartorio
ALBUM TITLE: Serpent & Fire
WORKS: Arias for Dido & Cleopatra by Hasse, Purcell, Graupner, Sartorio, Locke, Castrovillari, Handel & Cavalli
PERFORMER: Anna Prohaska (soprano); Il Giardino Armonico/Giovanni Antonini
CATALOGUE NO: Alpha 250  


Anna Prohaska’s artistry has developed significantly since her 2013 pan-Baroque recital, The Enchanted Forest, which was built around stories from Ariosto, Ovid, Shakespeare and Tasso. There’s a similarly wide range of styles in Serpent and Fire but the concept and execution is tighter. Now working with Giovanni Antonini and Il Giardino Armonico, Prohaska’s focus is on two African queens, Dido and Cleopatra, and their handmaids and confidantes. Whether dazzling with laser-cut coloratura in Araspe’s ‘Già si desta la tempesta’ (from Hasse’s Didone abbandonata) or gliding ecstatically over the eddying figures for strings in Menalippes’s ‘Holdestes Lispeln’ (from Graupner’s Dido, Königin von Karthago), she’s unstintingly expressive and imaginative. 


As Second Woman and Dido (both ground bass laments are included) Prohaska is an idiosyncratic Purcellian. As Handel’s Cleopatra, in ‘Se pietà’ (from Giulio Cesare), she traces a huge arc of emotions while retaining a light, dance-like pulse. Elsewhere she breaks metre or changes colour abruptly, and gasps, scoops and sighs. Saucy strophic songs from Antonio Sartorio’s Giulio Cesare (1677) and a sumptuous lament from Daniele da Castrovillari’s La Cleopatra (1662) were new to me. There’s a little too much twiddling from Antonini, and too many noodles between numbers. It’s a maddening, fascinating and often bewitching disc. Anna Picard