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Serpent and Fire: Arias for Dido and Cleopatra
Details after review
Anna Prohaska (soprano)
Il Giardino Armonico/Giovanni Antonini
rec. National Forum of Music, Wrocław, Poland, 6-10 December 2015. DDD.
Texts and translations included
ALPHA 250 [70:10]

With the historical Cleopatra and the legendary Dido figuring largely in baroque opera and oratorio, it was not difficult for Alpha to bring together this programme of arias, scintillating and tragic by turns, as a very effective excuse, if one were needed, for an anthology of arias from Anna Prohaska. It is, indeed, a more logical theme than that of the Enchanted Forest on an earlier Prohaska album, for DG Archiv (4790077 – review). I enjoyed it at least as much as that earlier release and this time with even fewer reservations than before.

My reservations then were that though everything was beautifully sung, there was too little differentiation between the various roles. With the alternation of moods which I’ve mentioned on the new recording, that is to a large extent taken care of, though I still wondered occasionally if the laments were quite as strongly characterised as they might have been.

There are more composers here than you may even have heard of. I certainly didn’t know that more than a handful of them had composed operas relating to Dido or Cleopatra. It was an excellent idea to combine the better-known works with the lesser-known, several of which are receiving their only current recording, possibly their first, though no such claim is made.

The programme is book-ended by some of the most familiar music here, from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. The best Didos on record have tended to be mezzos – I’m thinking principally of Janet Baker (Decca Legends) and Sarah Connolly (Chandos) – but there are also some excellent soprano Didos, such as Catherine Bott (Decca Oiseau-Lyre), and Anna Prohaska proves worthy to be counted along with these.

Purcell’s librettist Nahum Tate presents a very different Dido from Vergil’s original. Vergil’s ‘furious Dido, with dark thoughts involved’ (Dryden’s translation) refused to go gentle into that good night, cursing Aeneas and the empire which he was destined to found. (I should have torn him piecemeal; strow’d in floods / His scatter’d limbs, or left expos’d in woods; / Destroy’d his friends and son; and, from the fire, / Have set the reeking boy before the sire.) That was his poetic explanation of the enmity between Rome and Carthage which ended with the utter defeat of the latter, but Purcell was on the cusp of the Age of Enlightenment when the passions were regarded as suspect, so his Dido adopts a more reasonable tone on her demise: remember me but … forget my fate.

Most singers nevertheless give us more than a hint of Vergil’s original behind Nahum Tate’s words and Anna Prohaska is no exception. There is resignation in her voice but also determination and I found this a convincing account – a wonderful blend of assertion and lament – and one which left me more than happy with the programme overall, with the overall impression of a tour de force very stylishly brought off. I’m pleased to see that this is only one of a planned series of recordings from Alpha.

You may wonder what Purcell’s Fairy Queen and Locke’s Tempest have to do with either heroine: they don’t, but the orchestral extracts and those by Castello and Rossi make for welcome variety between the vocal items. Here and in the accompaniments to the vocal items, Il Giardino Armonico and Giovanni Antonini give of their very best, as they also do on another recent Alpha release. On Volume Three of their series of performances of Haydn symphonies, due to conclude on his tercentenary in 2032, they provide persuasive accounts of Nos. 4, 42 and 64 (Alpha 672 – review pending).

We seem not to have reviewed the Harmonia Mundi recording of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater which features Anna Prohaska with Bernarda Fink and the Berlin Akademie für Alte Music directed by Bernhard Forck when it was released in late 2010. The recording opens with Vivaldi’s Sinfonia Al Santo Sepolcro, a (possibly spurious) Pergolesi Salve Regina, and Locatelli’s Concerto Op.7/6, Il pianto d’Arianna, but the main item is the Stabat Mater (HMC902072). I downloaded it in 24-bit sound from eclassical.com and enjoyed it, though not necessarily in preference to Rinaldo Alessandrini (Naïve LA Collection, mid-price) or Christopher Hogwood (Decca Oiseau-Lyre) and it’s one of those infuriating cases where the eclassical download comes without the booklet while the classicsonline version, which does offer the booklet, is over-expensive, costing almost as much in £GB as the eclassical in $US.

I have been able to listen to Serpent and Fire only in mp3 to date, from the press release from Outhere, the parent group to which Alpha belongs. I look forward to its appearing in lossless sound from eclassical.com, but the mp3 is more than good enough to lead me to expect the best.

As with the DG recording we are treated to multiple photographs of the very photogenic Anna Prohaska, this time decked in jewellery as Dido and Cleopatra and with a serpent tattoo on her forearm. No complaints on that score but it seems to have distracted the compilers into forgetting to include recording venue and date(s) in the press preview booklet – I had to check the final version, which does include them on p.58, from Qobuz.

Fans of Anna Prohaska will automatically snap this up. Others who purchase this recording are likely to become firm admirers.

Brian Wilson

Details:

Henry PURCELL (1659-1695)
Dido and Aeneas Z.626 (1689) Overture [1:47]
Aria ‘Ah! Belinda, I am press’d with Torment’ [4:42]
Christoph GRAUPNER (1683-1760)
Dido, Königin von Karthago (1707) Aria ‘Holdestes Lispeln der Spielenden Fluthen’ [2:05]
Antonio SARTORIO (1630-1680)
Giulio Cesare in Egitto (1677) Aria ‘Non voglio amar’ [2:31]
Matthew LOCKE (c.1621-1677)
The Tempest (1667) The Second Musick: Lilk [0:50]
The Second Musick: Curtain Tune [5:08]
Daniele Da CASTROVILLARI (c.1613-1678)
La Cleopatra (1662) Aria ‘A Dio Regni, A Dio Scettri’ [6:08]
Antonio SARTORIO
Giulio Cesare in Egitto: Aria ‘Quando voglio’ [2:32]
Matthew LOCKE
The Tempest : The First Musick: Galliard [1:34]
Henry PURCELL
The Fairy Queen Z.629 (1692) Chaconne: Dance For The Chinese Man and Woman [2:39]
Christoph GRAUPNER
Dido, Königin Von Karthago : Recitativo Accompagnato ‘Der Himmel…’ [1:22]
Aria ‘Infido Cupido’ [2:12]
Aria ‘Agitato da Tempeste’ [2:31]
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Giulio Cesare In Egitto , HWV17 (1724) Recitativo Accompagnato ‘Che sento? O Dio!’ [1:07]
Aria ‘Se Pietà di me non senti’ [7:19]
Johann Adolf HASSE (1699-1783)
Didone Abbandonata (1742) Aria ‘Già si desta la Tempesta’ [4:00]
Dario CASTELLO (First half of 17th Century)
Sonate Concertate In Stil Moderno, Libro Secondo (1629) Sonata Decimaquinta a quattro [4:51]
Francesco CAVALLI (1602-1676)
Didone (1641) Recitative and Aria ‘Re de’ Getuli altero’ [3:19]
Johann Adolf HASSE
Marc’Antonio e Cleopatra (1725) Aria ‘Morte col fiero Aspetto’ [4:04]
Luigi ROSSI (c.1597-1653)
Passacaille del Seig. R Louigi [2:50]
Henry PURCELL
Dido And Aeneas Z.626: Aria ‘Oft she visits this lone Mountain’ [1:49]
Recitative and Aria ‘Thy Hand, Belinda… When I am laid in Earth’ (Dido’s Lament) [4:37]

 




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