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Pace e Guerra: Arias for Bernacchi
Pietro TORRI (c.1650-1737)
Lucio Vera: Pace e Guerra (1720) [3:19]
Amadis di Grecia: La cara tua favella (1724) [7:04]
Venceslao: Parto, non ho Costanza (1725) [10:06]
Domenico Natale SARRO (1679-1744)
L’Arsace: Quell’usignuolo (c.1718) [5:05]
Georg Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Partenope HWV27 (1730): Recit. Rosmira, ove ti guida [1:48] ¹: Aria. Ch’io parta [4:15]: Aria. Furibondo spira il vento [3:58]
Lotario, HWV26: Non disperi peregrine (1729) [6:10]
Johann Adolf HASSE (1699-1783)
Demetrio: Duet. Dal mio ben che tanto amai (1732) [8:46] ¹
Carlo Francesco POLLAROLO (1658-1723)
Ariodante: Già mi par (1716) [4:05]
Leonardo VINCI (c.1690-1730)
Il Medo (1728). Recit. Pia che sposarlo [0:35]: Aria. Taci o di morte [8:07] Trio: Sento scherzar [7:29] ¹ ²
Francesco GASPARINI (1661-1727)
IL Bajazet: A dispetto (1719) [3:53]
Terry Wey (countertenor)
Vivica Genaux (mezzo soprano¹): Valer Sabadus (countertenor²)
Bach Consort Wien/Rubén Dubrovsky
rec. January 2016, Kammeroper, Vienna
Texts and translations included
DEUTSCHE HARMONIA MUNDI 88985410502 [74:40]

The caricatures of Antonio Bernacchi are so preposterous – even by the graphic standards of the day - that one can barely imagine how gargantuan the castrato must have been. The sketch by Antonio Maria Zanetti even shows a – by comparison – Lilliputian extra, half the height of the helmeted and plumed singer, attempting to hold the vast singer’s belly in place. But whilst he may have been ‘big as a Spanish friar’ the voice was commonly held to be virtuosic with a wide compass, if prone to coloratura circus tricks. He was a star in Venice and Vienna, performed all over Europe and earned huge renown and the critical commentary that comes with such renown. In London in 1729 Handel paid him the astronomical fee of 1,200 guineas for the single season. Whether his voice was fraying – he was now in his mid-40s – or whether the local audience still had a yen for Senesino, Bernacchi didn’t last long in London.

Bernacchi (1685-1756) is thus the focus of this disc and Terry Wey has selected a number of the most significant and impressive arias composed for him by Handel, Hasse, Vinci, Torri and their compositional brothers-in-arms. Given the relative obscurity into which some of the lesser-known works have sunk, it’s perhaps not surprising to know that seven pieces are making their première appearance on disc.

The disc’s title track shows just how technically developed the countertenor’s arsenal must have been. In its incessant coloratura demands Pietro Torri’s music requires the utmost in heroic manoeuverability from his singer, something that Wey succeeds admirably in emulating. But demands of a wholly different kind suffuse Ch’io parta, the aria from Handel’s Partenope, and show how the composer needed qualities of legato and expressive lyricism, pathos, seamless divisions and control of breath. The aria is, in effect, a Sarabande and encourages some very deft and judicious singing from Wey, and accomplished orchestral accompaniment too. The ‘wind’ aria Furibondo spira il vento from the same opera is fast and spirited, the divisions well surmounted. Clearly trying to mould another Senesino for his London stage Handel, in Lotario, gave the singer one of the opera’s very best arias, Non disperi I peregrine.

Bernacchi took several villainous roles in his career and Carlo Francesco Pollarolo crafted an especially wicked number for the role of Polinesso in his Venetian opera Ariodante, with a libretto by Antonio Salvi. One listen to those blustering roulades in Già mi par is enough to evoke a real theatrical picture of a vast countertenor in full flow (though Wey, it should be noted, is the very opposite in terms of physique, being trim and clean-cut).

Examples of duets and trios can be found here too. With Valer Sabadus, another of the world’s most prominent operatic countertenors, and mezzo Vivica Genaux Wey essays the terzetto Sento scherzar from Torri’s dramatic Amadis de Grecia. The result is one of unremitting coloratura bravura. Indeed, Torri’s arias are particularly revealing, whether grandstanding or more clement; his supple Venetian eloquence can be savoured in the disc’s final aria, again previously unrecorded, Parto, non ho costanza from Venceslao. Elsewhere, the vogue for the hunting aria is explored in Gasparini’s A dispetto from Il Bajazet and explored with much brio.

The ‘Arias for…’ genre is a popular one in respect of eighteenth-century singers, both male and female; countertenor and soprano, principally. But it’s especially good that so many arias (and duets and a terzetto) are making their first appearance on disc here. It’s fortunate that Rubén Dubrovsky and the Bach Consort Wien prove such admirable accompanists, deft and colourful – like the disc as a whole.

Jonathan Woolf



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