COMPOSERS: Handel; Porpora; Leo; Hasse; Pergolesi
LABELS: Sony Classics
ALBUM TITLE: Dramma
WORKS: Baroque Arias
PERFORMER: Simone Kermes
CATALOGUE NO: 88691963952
Simone Kermes’s latest CD of 18th-century opera seria arias is delightful from start to finish. In parallel with Lava and Colori d’amore, its two predecessor discs, Dramma’s contents are shaped according to a pertinent theme – in this case, the formidable talents of the era’s leading castrato sopranos. Most of the operas sampled here had Caffarelli and Farinelli, the two most famous, as their primo uomo; but the programme goes beyond saluting their ability to dazzle with range, agility and tonal brilliance. Showpieces, notably those from Leo’s Zenobia in Palmira (1725) and Porpora’s Germanico in Germania (1732) – with its exhilarating triplet cascades for voice and obbligato horn – alternate with slower airs in which melting delicacy becomes the keynote.
Indeed, the disc’s highlight is ‘Le limpid’onde’ from Porpora’s Ifigenia en Aulide (1735), a pastoral siciliana in a vein of time-stilling enchantment worthy of Handel. The German soprano delivers it, as she does all the numbers (among them Handel’s own ‘Lascia ch’io pianga’), with a spellbinding command of vocal style, mood and tone-colouring. Some people find her singing mannered; I prefer to think of her as the Schwarzkopf of the Baroque – a singer in whom keen intelligence (demonstrated no less in her scholarly booklet note), stylistic sophistication and searching imagination achieve extraordinary artistic combination. Throughout, La Magnifica Comunità, the Padua-based period band, supports her magnificently.