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Anna Prohaska: "Serpent and Fire"

CD Button Arias by Purcell, Handel, Hasse, Cavalli, Graupner, Sartorio, Castrovillari. Il Giardino Armonico, Antonini. Alpha 250

Recordings Prohaska Cover 217
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THE CAPTIVATING and imaginative soprano Anna Prohaska has put together a stunning CD to rival Behind the Lines, her 2014 war-themed recital that ranged widely in languages and historical styles. This time she’s gathered arias from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries that highlight Dido and Cleopatra, mythological and historical queens of Africa, and their dramatic suicides. Il Giardino Armonico provides luscious support to Prohaska’s captivating combination of intellect and instinct, using improvisations to link arias and providing authoritative readings, particularly of Matthew Locke’s weird and dissonant music for The Tempest.

Purcell’s Dido is “press’d with torment” in the familiar aria, yet Prohaska’s pauses are startling. A clever instrumental link unfolds into whispering, trilling and buzzing that suggest the rushing and rippling waters in the text of the delightful aria “Holdestes Lispeln der Spielenden Fluthen,” from Christoph Graupner’s Dido, Königin von Karthago. This bilingual opera was written in 1707 for the Hamburg Opera, and two additional arias find Prohaska pulling at sinewy lines and blazing with wild rubato and abandon. Prohaska uses dark colors and haughty delivery as Cavalli’s Didone rejects her suitor Iarbas in the scene “Re de’ Getuli altero,” and the soprano brings energetic point to the runs, staccatos and whimsical ornaments in a conventional storm aria from Hasse’s 1742 setting of Metastasio’s Didone Abbandonata

The other queen, Cleopatra, teases and rejects love in two arias from Antonio Sartorio’s 1677 Giulio Cesare in Egitto, with delightful chirping from the recorders in “Quando voglio, con un vezzo.” In Daniele da Castrovillari’s La Cleopatra (1662), the queen bids farewell to life in the haunting harmonic simplicity of “A dio regni, a dio scettri.” Here Prohaska internalizes the lover’s torment and sustains an atmosphere of desolation and despair. Antonini keeps Handel’s well-known “Se pietà” (from Giulio Cesare) from dragging, allowing Prohaska to unfold melodies like an improvisation on suffering, with heavy syncopations and lines trailing off like sobs. In contrast, the heroine of Hasse’s Marc’Antonio e Cleopatra rages in clipped phrases and in chains of urgently rising chromatics, details and effects that Prohaska milks, now pressing, now snarling; it’s thrilling.

The recital unfolds seamlessly, with keys and moods carefully arranged, returning at last to Purcell’s work. After an edgy, breathless rendition of the Second Woman’s “Oft she visits this lone mountain,” Prohaska’s bitter and devastated version of Dido’s lament dramatically closes the recital. —Judith Malafronte 

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