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Arias and Cantatas by Alessandro Scarlatti, Handel, Monteverdi and Monari
Kate Lindsey (mezzo)
with Nardus Williams (soprano, track 24), Andrew Staples (tenor, track 21)
Arcangelo/Jonathan Cohen (harpsichord & chamber organ)
rec. 19-21 October 2020, Church of St Jude-on-the-Hill, London
Sung texts with English and French translations enclosed
ALPHA 736 [75:34]
Reviewed as downloaded from press preview.

Virginia-born mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey has rapidly conquered the leading opera houses of the world and has appeared on various recordings, among which a curious The Magic Flute DVD from the Metropolitan Opera from as early as 2006 came my way for review several years ago, and much later a highly recommendable La clemenza di Tito (review) conducted by Jrmie Rhorer was issued in 2017. That year also saw her first solo recital Thousands of Miles (review) with songs by Kurt Weill, Alma Mahler, Erich Wolfgang Korngold and others, which was awarded a Recording of the Month soubriquet by both me and my colleague Ian Lace. In her latest offering she takes us further back in time.

The subject is the Roman Emperor Nero, who lived in the first century A.D. and the music is from the 17th century and the early 18th century. Only Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea is an opera, from which we are vouchsafed some key scenes, while the others are cantatas of manageable length, and are performed complete. Nero was, of course, one of the cruellest persons in ancient history – though he had competitors – which vouches for a great deal of drama. In Alessandro Scarlatti’s monologue Il Nerone, he is outspoken and doesn’t prevaricate: “I am Nero, the commander of the world, and the master of all souls down here. Fortuna crowned me in order to harm you, o mother, o wife, o tutor, o Roma” he says in his opening recitative and openly declares: “Compassion is banned from my heart for all times, and in my realm only cruelty reigns”. In the aria that follows, he even challenges the gods: “I want that Jove trembles before the splendour of my countenance, and that the sun rises at my command. I tell you, gods of the firmament, that I solely desire to reign.” Modesty indeed! And this is only the beginning, but I leave it to the readers to investigate further atrocities.

Suffice it to say that such awful texts need a singer who wholeheartedly can indulge in the frightfulness – and such a singer exists. Her name is Kate Lindsey. She has the technique for Scarlatti’s virtuoso writings, she has the power, and she has a full array of expressive means: she shouts, she groans, she whispers, and she spits venom like a cobra. She is prepared to sacrifice beauty of tone for the sake of expressivity, and she even sometimes falters in intonation. I have rarely heard such involvement. And the next moment she croons softly and inwardly, for instance in the aria Veder chi pena (tr. 6), where the text says: “To watch those that suffer and sigh, is my heart’s desire, villainous since birth.” Alessandro Scarlatti was a leading composer of operas in the late 17th century and the beginning of the next. He was even more productive in the chamber sonata genre – more than 700! That he had a keen sense of drama is clear from Il Nerone, written probably around the turn of the century.

Handel spent his formative years in Hamburg and Italy, where he also met Scarlatti, before he settled in London. And it was in Rome that he composed his dramatic monologue Agrippina condotta a morire, which was a forerunner to his opera, Agrippina, generally regarded as his first operatic masterpiece. Agrippina was Nero’s mother, who was sentenced to death by her son, something he also brags about in Scarlatti’s cantata. In her monologue she vacillates between various feelings, from disbelief to a wish to return as a ghost to torment her son as revenge. But she hesitates: “How, o God, can I desire the death of one who owes his life to me?” The music is certainly filled with drama, and there are copious opportunities for Kate Lindsey to expose her prowess in coloratura, but as usual with Handel the equilibristic excursions are no empty showpieces. He also shows the softer side of Agrippina in some lovely cavatinas. Come, o Dio! (tr. 16) is a real winner, while the short Su lacerate il seno (tr. 19) has a heft and rhythmic vitality that borders on folk music fiddling.

The best-known music on this disc is culled from Monteverdi’s masterpiece L’incoronazione di Poppea. In the first scene we encounter Nero and his friend Lucano, who rejoice over Seneca’s death, which means that Nero is free to wed Poppea. Andrew Staples is a good Lucano. Ottavia’s lament, Addio Roma, one of the really great baroque arias, where she bids farewell to Rome, friends, everything after she has been repudiated by Nero, is deeply touching. Kate Lindsey’s intensity is overwhelming, and again she sacrifices beauty of tone for a credible psychological portrait of a suffering, mentally tortured woman. In the final duet for Nero and Poppea – probably not by Monteverdi – she is joined by Nardus Williams’s lyric soprano, and everything is beautiful.

Bartolomeo Monari was a new name to me, and his portrait of Poppea is rather restrained. Only towards the end of the last recitative (tr. 29) there is a dramatic outburst. This is a premiere recording, and it is, of course, valuable to explore untrodden paths. Perhaps deeper acquaintance with this music will reveal other qualities.

A premiere recording is also Scarlatti’s La morte di Nerone. Here is drama a-plenty, and Scarlatti amply proves that he is a man of the theatre. Kate Lindsey is also on her home ground, singing with intensity and face. In the booklet there are a couple of photos of her while recording some of this music, and even before I saw the photos, I instinctively felt what she would look like in front of the microphone.

This is a deep, probing traversal of some relatively little performed baroque pearls, backed by the ever-responsive Arcangelo under Jonathan Cohen with a top-notch recording to match. Should be an obligatory buy for baroque enthusiasts.

Gran Forsling

Alessandro SCARLATTI (1660–1725)
Il Nerone (1698?)
1. Recitativo Io son Neron [1:18]
2. Aria Vu che tremi Giove ancora [2:17]
3. Recitativo Il tirannico cor io non ascondo [0:46]
4. Aria Non stabilisce, no [1:36]
5. Recitativo Or coll’abisso istesso [1:10]
6. Aria Veder chi pena [4:55]
7. Recitativo Coi furibondi sguardi [0:38]
George Frideric HANDEL (1685–1759)
Agrippina condotta a morire, HWV 110 (c. 1707-09)
8. Recitativo Dunque sar pur vero [1:05]
9. Aria Orrida, oscura [3:22]
10. Recitativo Ma pria che d’empia morte [1:00]
11. Aria Renda cenere il tiranno [2:55]
12. Recitativo Si, si, del gran tiranno [1:43]
13. Cavatina Come, o Dio! [2:12]
14. Cavatina Si, si, s’uccida [1:48]
15. Cavatina Cada lacero e svenato [1:01]
16. Cavatina Come, o Dio! [2:16]
17. Aria Se infelice al mondo vissi [3:48]
18. Recitativo Prema l’ingrato figlio [1:12]
19. Aria Su lacerate il seno [1:51]
20. Recitativo Ecco a morte gi corro [0:23]
Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567–1643)
L’incoronazione di Poppea (1843)
21. Or che Seneca morto (Atto II, scena 5) [6:08]
22. Son rubin preziosi (Atto II, scena 5) [2:13]
23. Addio Roma! (Atto III, scena 6) [4:02]
24. Pur ti miro! Pur ti good (Atto III, scena finale) [4:25]
Bartolomeo MONARI (1662–1697)
La Poppea (1685) Premiere Recording
25. Recitativo Scorrea con pi superbo [0:56]
26. Aria Dove mai stelle spietati [2:13]
27. Recitativo Odi Neron questi sospiri estremi [1:11]
28. Aria Pria di nascere oh dolce prole [1:54]
29. Recitativo Ma se tante querele [1:09]
30. Aria Bellezza mortale [1:55]
Alessandro SCARLATTI
La morte di Nerone (c. 1690s?) Premiere Recording
31. Recitativo Abbandonato e solo [1:06]
32. Aria Quella morte, che per gioco [2:33]
33. Recitativo Ma che miro? [1:28]
34. Aria Vieni pur, vieni s, s [1:40]
35. Recitativo Ma no! Merta Nerone [0:40]
36. Cavatina Il suo pensier l’uccida [2:07]
37. Aria Contro l’armi dell’inganno [2:03]
38. Recitativo Cis fremea Nerone e fu trafitto [0:22]

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