Xavier Sabata: "I Dilettanti"
Cantata and opera arias by Benedetti, Bigaglia, d’Astorga, Maccari, Marcello and Ruggieri; Latinitas Nostra, Chryssicos. Texts and translations. Aparte 093
Spanish countertenor Xavier Sabata’s last disc for Aparte, a collection of Handel arias called Bad Guys, featured the singer in a scary pose suggesting leather domination. It was an interesting concept, but despite his stylistic know-how, Sabata’s soft-grained voice didn’t often suit the aggressive material. The current offering is far better suited to his refined instrument and considerable skill at tasteful and musical ornaments.
The pieces involved are secular cantatas for alto castratos with bass continuo, plus two arias (in the same vocal arrangement) from the 1707 opera Armida Abbandonata, by Giovanni Maria Ruggieri (c.1665–1725), a setting based on the same part of Torquato Tasso’s Gerusalemme Liberata that had inspired Lully and would occupy in turn Handel, Gluck, Haydn, Jommelli, Rossini and Dvorˇák. The booklet never tells us which characters sing the two lovely Ruggieri arias (“Deh m’adita o bella dea” and “Vinto son della mia fede”), but their elegaic tone and gently melismatic effects flatter Sabata’s voice and make them among the most pleasing items here. Throughout the disc, Sabata’s well-trained and attractive instrument moves with ease but is slightly less effective in portions of the music requiring declamatory vehemence. He can deftly apply baritone resonance at musically suitable junctures, as in the lower reaches of the exquisite first Bigaglia aria, “Più ch’io cerco del mio bene,” and Marcello’s cantata Lucrezia. This intriguing twelve-minute work features the vocalist both as initial narrator and as aggrieved Roman heroine, with skips ricocheting dramatically across two octaves.
The Latinitas Nostra members’ work here is far more enjoyable than it was in the Greek ensemble’s recent mannered recorded outing with Romina Basso, Lamento. Musical director Markellos Chryssicos’s dramatic if sometimes unduly percussive harpsichord anchors the recits. Theodoros Kitsos sensitively handles lute, Baroque guitar and theorbo; Iason Ioannou’s Baroque cello is masterful. Though it is not, perhaps, a stunner, this disc’s creative exploration rewards attention.
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