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Cleopatra - Baroque Arias
Arias by Handel, Vivaldi, Graun, Legrenzi, Hasse, Alessandro Scarlatti, Mattheson & Sartorio
Regula Mühlemann (soprano)
La Folia Barockorchester/Robin Peter Müller
rec. 2016, Altes Stadtbad Annaberg-Buchholz, Germany
Sung texts with English translations
SONY CLASSICAL 88985407012 [58:11]

Cleopatra, the fabled Queen of the Nile, has inspired many Baroque operas. Handel is the best-known composer to be so enthused. His successful opera Giulio Cesare in Egitto (1723) contains eight marvellous solo arias for Egypt’s seductive Queen, written for the famous soprano Francesca Cuzzoni. Composers were clearly moved by the multifaceted aspects of the legendary and dangerously charismatic Queen and her tragic end, writing for audiences of the day who knew Cleopatra from Shakespeare’s play ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ (c. 1607) and Dryden’s ‘All For Love’ (1677). Cleopatra features in more than eighty operas from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Performed by Swiss soprano Regula Mühlemann, this attractive collection of thirteen Cleopatra Baroque recitatives and arias from the pens of renowned composers Handel, Vivaldi and Alessandro Scarlatti, the undeservedly lesser known Hasse, and the generally unknown Graun, Legrenzi, Mattheson and Sartorio. The arias are new to me but unquestionably worthy of this rediscovery. By the way, in 2017 Mühlemann released on Sony Classical her debut solo album, a well-received collection of Mozart arias (which I positively reviewed).

In this Baroque repertoire it is a pleasure to hear Lucerne-born Mühlemann. Her radiant soprano is so splendidly dignified and vividly clear. Her quick upper register really gleams bright and remains pleasingly under control. As with her debut album, Mühlemann’s performances have little in the way of risk-taking. I admire how her pinpoint precision and steadfast technique does not come at the expense of providing character to these roles.

The most famous aria here is Se pietà di me non senti from Handel’s famous Giulio Cesare in Egitto. Mühlemann reveals her lovely smooth line, excelling in Cleopatra’s heartrending prayer which implores heaven to cease her torment. From Hasse’s Marc'Antonio e Cleopatra in the simile aria Quel candido armellino, the distraught Cleopatra, a role created by castrato Farinelli, is contemplating death by her own hand. Mühlemann produces a girl-like tone which works well together with the convincing degree of poignancy she communicates. Of the rare arias, I especially relish Graun’s Cleopatra e Cesare, the simile aria Tra le procelle assorto, tempestuous and stormy in character. Mühlemann, with controlled gusto, convincingly portrays Cleopatra’s emotional distress in striking coloratura. Admirable too from Mattheson’s Die unglücksselige Cleopatra is the German-language aria Ruhe sanft, geliebter Geist. Mühlemann provides a strong sense of intimacy in this heartrending text. The bonus track is the aria Quando voglio from Sartorio’s Giulio Cesare in Egitto. Baroque harpist and specialist early music singer Kateřina Ghannudi provides an additional vocal part in this novel aria, extremely folk-like in quality.

Founded in 2007, Dresden-based La Folia Barockorchester is directed here from the Baroque violin by artistic director Robin Peter Müller. All the musician play authentic instruments or modern copies with strings fitted with gut, and use period bows. I notice that there are no brass parts in the scores for any of these arias. This allows Mühlemann’s voice to shine through unimpeded. Eminently suited to this repertoire, La Folia under Müller illuminate these arias by an impressive blend of verve and refinement.

In the recording at Altes Stadtbad Annaberg-Buchholz, the sound engineers have excelled in providing vivid clarity and satisfying balance. In the CD booklet there is an interesting essay titled ‘Cleopatra Revisited – Old sounds and new images’ by Dr. Oliver Geisler, and a short explanation of each aria in relation to its context in the opera. There also are full Italian and German sung texts with translations in English. Despite the relatively short playing time that would have easily accommodated additional arias, all in all this album is excellently presented by Sony, right down to the striking cover image and other photos of Mühlemann dressed as Cleopatra.

Regula Mühlemann steps up to the significant challenges of this collection of captivating Baroque Cleopatra arias. With such exceptional performances by both soprano and orchestra, there is no reason for baroque lovers to hesitate with this outstanding album.

Michael Cookson

Track listing
Carl Heinrich GRAUN (1703-1759)
1. Cleopatra e Cesare, WV B:I:7: Tra le procelle assorto (aria)
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
2. Giulio Cesare in Egitto, HWV 17: Che sento? Oh Dio! (recitativo)
3. Giulio Cesare in Egitto, HWV 17: Se pietà di me non senti (aria)
Johann Adolf HASSE (1699-1783)
4. Marc'Antonio e Cleopatra: Morte col fiero aspetto (aria)
5. Marc'Antonio e Cleopatra: Lascia, Antonio, deh lascia (recitativo)
6. Marc'Antonio e Cleopatra: Quel candido armellino (aria)
Giovanni LEGRENZI (1626-1690)
7. Antioco il Grande: Se tu sarai felice (aria)
Alessandro SCARLATTI (1660-1725)
8. Marc'Antonio e Cleopatra, H. 121: Antonio, e qual destino (recitativo)
9. Marc'Antonio e Cleopatra, H. 121: Vò goder senza contrasto (aria)
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
10. La virtù trionfante dell'amore e dell'odio, ovvero il Tigrane, RV 740: Squarciami pure il seno (aria)
Johann MATTHESON (1681-1764)
11. Die unglücksselige Cleopatra: Mein Leben ist hin (aria)
12. Die unglücksselige Cleopatra: Ruhe sanft, geliebter Geist (aria)
Bonus track (with Kateřina Ghannudi, harp and singer):
Antonio SARTORIO (1630-1681)
13. Giulio Cesare in Egitto: Quando voglio (aria)



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