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George Frideric HANDEL
(1685 – 1759)

Crude furie (Serse) (1738) [3.43]
Dolce ripososo (Teseo) (1713) [3.14]
Ira, sdegni, e furore (Teseo) (1713) [4.46]
Moriro, ma vendicata  (Teseo) (1713) [4.46]
L’angue offeso mai riposa (Giulio Cesare) (1724) [5.22]
Chiudetevi miei lumi (Admeto) (1727) [7.33]
There in myrtle shades reclined (Hercules) (1745) [4.40]
Hence, Iris hence away (Semele) (1744) [3.39]
Sorge nell’alma mia (Imeneo) (1740) [5.21]
Scherza infida (Ariodante) (1735) [10.54]
Gelosia, spietata Aletto (Admeto) (1727) [5.00]
Destero dall’empia Dite (Amadigi) (1715) [5.23]
Cease Ruler of the Day (Hercules) (1745) [4.44]
Where shall I fly (Hercules) (1745) [6.00]
Joyce DiDonato (mezzo)
Les Talens Lyriques/Christopher Rousset
rec. during and after performances at Theatre de la Monnaie, Brussels, April 2008
VIRGIN CLASSICS 5190382 [75.08]
Experience Classicsonline

For her first recital disc, American mezzo-soprano has chosen a fascinating selection of Handel arias, under the title of Fuore. Though the recital ostensibly explores madness in various different Handel characters, DiDonato avoids the most obvious selection by omitting Orlando’s mad scene. The recital mixes well known with lesser known pieces, so that it successfully avoids being simply another stroll through Handel’s greatest hits.
Any collection of Handel arias would be quite a challenge for a debut recital, but DiDonato cuts herself very little slack by selecting a number of virtuoso bravura pieces. It is to her credit that not only does she bring this off but gives us a profoundly satisfying, enthralling and musical recital, rather than mere fireworks.
The recital opens with a bravura account of Serse’s Crude furie.  This is then followed by three of Medea’s arias from Teseo, Medea being one of Handel’s most striking creations. She continues with Sesto’s revenge aria from Giulio Cesare, Admeto’s deathbed scene, tormented by Furies, and Alceste’s jealousy aria from Admeto. Juno’s Iris hence away from Semele is, perhaps, stretching the Fuore label a little. But Tirinto’s impassioned aria of jealous frustration from Imeneo has the advantage of being right on subject and has the advantage of being relatively rare on disc. The final group of arias consists of Ariodante’s Scherza infida, Melissa’s Act 2 aria from Amadigi and a pair of Dejanira’s arias from Hercules finishing with her mad scene, Where shall I fly.
As can be seen from this list, DiDonato’s selection ranges quite widely, both in style and subject matter, and covers an attractive variety of types of arias. DiDonato is highly adept at the bravura, virtuoso singing required here. She has an enviably secure technique with a warm toned voice. The cover, with its glamour shots of the singer, certainly does her a disservice; she is far more intelligent and musical singer than it would lead you to believe.
DiDonato has quite a wide range when it comes to opera and this shows on this disc where here voice is richer and more varied than some singers. It must be admitted that in some of the faster, highly articulated passages she barely avoids producing a Cecilia-Bartoli-like clucking, but luckily this is not too persistent a habit.
In some of the quieter numbers DiDonato sings in a more intimate, almost cooing manner that is very much designed just for CD, I can’t imagine it working in a house the size of Covent Garden or the Met. If overdone this mode of delivery could be annoying but in arias like Scherza infida it proves profoundly moving.
DiDonato has clearly thought about the affekts used in each aria. You never feel that the singing is just thoughtlessly cantering through the music. Sometimes her expressiveness can go over the top as in Dejanira’s Where shall I fly where DiDonato bends the vocal line and uses sub-vocalisation; granted this is all in the name of expression but I felt she should have trusted Handel’s vocal line a little more.
Ornamentation is kept within the bounds of taste and decency, which is a great relief, though there is a noticeable tendency for the singer to push the vocal line up in the ornaments. DiDonato is ably accompanied by Christophe Rousset and Les Talens Lyriques; who provide crisp, vibrant playing. The CD booklet includes an informative essay by the estimable David Vickers and has full texts. The disc was recording in collaboration with La Monnaie in Brussels, being recorded during and after performances in the theatre, which perhaps explains the wonderful vividness of the performances.
I am aware that this review perhaps sounds less than enthusiastic at times but this is an absorbing and brilliant recital, a highly impressive debut. Only in a few details does DiDonato fall below the high standard she sets herself.
Robert Hugill


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