OPERA NEWS - Ann Hallenberg: "Carnevale 1729"
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Ann Hallenberg: "Carnevale 1729"

CD Button Arias by Albinoni, Giacomelli, Leo, Orlandini, Porpora and Vinci; Il Pomo d’Oro, Montanonti. Texts and translations. Pentatone 5186 678 (2)

Recordings Ann Hallenberg Carnevale cover 1017
Critics Choice Button 1015

MEZZO CECILIA BARTOLI pioneered a kind of album for which she would unearth, research and perform—in suitably stylish conditions—overlooked Baroque arias by composers not named Handel. Several countertenors and mezzos have followed suit, including Ann Hallenberg, a Swede who maintains a high-profile career in Europe but has sung just a smattering of concerts in North America. She remains a relatively well-kept secret here.

Collectors would do well to seek out Hallenberg’s growing discography. This exceptionally rewarding new release explores the Venetian Carnival season of 1728–29, when competing theaters presented a noteworthy infusion of new and repurposed music (recontextualization and pasticcio having been common operatic practice at the time). Many leading composers were represented, and some of the era’s vocal superstars were on hand, including the soprano Faustina and castratos Senesino and Farinelli. The resulting music’s difficulty reflects their expertise, panache and expressive potential.

Of the fourteen cuts generously spread across this set’s two discs, all are world-premiere recordings except Porpora’s “In braccio a mille furie,” a vehement, bravura vehicle that’s been tackled elsewhere—including by Hallenberg, on her recent Farinelli album with Christophe Rousset. Interacting easily here with the skilled instrumentalists of Il Pomo d’Oro, she shows complete technical mastery, with well-executed trills, skips, staccatos and impressive breath control. No one quite matches Bartoli’s native responsiveness to Italian words, and fellow mezzos and Baroque interpreters Joyce DiDonato and Vivica Genaux dig deeper into incisive phrasing and dynamics. But Hallenberg is always expressive and boasts the most consistently rounded tone of this expert quartet.

Several fast simile arias (for example, Orlandini’s “Scherza in mar la navicella,” from Adelaide, crafted to showcase Faustina) lack melodic contour, and in the wrong throat they can emerge as “sewing-machine music.” But Hallenberg’s technique and intelligence make them telling and entertaining. Several slow, contemplative pieces here are ravishing—and potential earworms. From the same Orlandini opera, “Quanto bella agl’occhi miei” movingly stops time. In Giacomelli’s “Mi par sentir la bella,” from Gianguir, oboe and pizzicato strings hauntingly buffet Senesino’s elegiac voice part.  —David Shengold



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