- Hercule Mourant, opera in 5 acts: Dieu, grand dieu, sois sensible
The 1994 film Farinelli, depicting the famed 18th century castrato singer by that name (or stage name: in a 21st century move, he named himself after his sponsors), was a major force in kicking off the whole revival of Baroque opera, and Vivica Genaux and Cecilia Bartoli are among the coloratura mezzo-sopranos who have taken a shot at re-creating Farinelli's sound. This release by the powerhouse Swedish mezzo Ann Hallenberg must be one of the best of the bunch. It was recorded live in Bergen, Norway, in 2011 with the top-notch, historical-performance group Les Talens Lyriques under Christophe Rousset. Hallenberg, like Bartoli, does not simply sing these pieces as soprano arias, but adds a bit of heft in the lower register to simulate the castrato sound, and she gets something of the swagger Farinelli must have had. The best part is the program and Hallenberg's treatment of the music. With the exception of the pair of Handel arias (which were encores in the original live concert and might better have been placed in that position here), these arias were all composed specifically for Farinelli. Two of them are by the singer's brother, Riccardo Broschi, and others are by Geminiano Giacomelli, Leonardo Leo, and Haydn's teacher Nicola Porpora. None of these are top-drawer composers, but they knew Farinelli's voice well and were equipped to deliver music that was tailor-made for it, with octave leaps, rippling runs, and lots of dramatic exclamations in the lower-octave sweet spot of the castrato voice. Sample the opening "Son qual nave ch'agitata" from Broschi's setting of the ubiquitous "Artaserse" libretto. It's these characteristics that Hallenberg inhabits fully, and the result is virtuoso singing of a rare order. Aparte's sound engineers capture the slashing sounds of Rousset's group and eliminate much of the audience's presence, although they faithfully reproduce the big page turn at the section break in Hasse's "Cleofide" overture. A major Baroque opera recital; strongly recommended.
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