Saturday, 8 January 2011

Cleopatra - Natalie Dessay sings Handel

Handel: Cleopatra
Arias from Giulio Cesare
Natalie Dessay (soprano)
with Sonia Prina (alto)
Le Concert d’Astrée
directed by Emmanuelle Haïm

Label: Virgin Classics
Release date: 10th Jan 2011

Track listing:
Overture from Giulio Cesare
Tutto puo` donna vezzosa
V' adoro, pupille
Venere bella
Vuo dar vita
Piangerò la sorte mia
Troppo crudeli siete
Se pietà di me non senti
Da tempeste il legno infranto
Caro! Bella! Più amabile beltà

At the Paris Opéra in early 2011, Natalie Dessay will take on a new starring role: Cleopatra in Handel’s Giulio Cesare, now the most popular of all the composer’s stage works. The many facets of the Egyptian queen – captured by Shakespeare in the phrase “infinite variety” – are depicted in a sequence of contrasting arias, both lyrical and brilliant, making the character a superb showcase for the French soprano’s talents as a singing actress.

Promotional video for Cleopatra from Virgin Classics:

Conducting the impressive cast and the period-instrument orchestra Le Concert d'Astrée at the Opéra – and on this new recording of excerpts from Giulio Cesare – is Emmanuelle Haïm, who first collaborated with Dessay in the late 1990s; both artists were involved in a Paris production of Handel’s Alcina, Haïm as répétiteur (for William Christie) and Dessay in the sparkling role of Morgana. Since then, the two have developed a close working relationship which has produced a number of Virgin Classics recordings, including several works by Handel: cantatas (in a collection called Delirio), the Dixit Dominus and the oratorio Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno, a recording which left the French magazine Diapason “looking forward to Emmanuelle Haïm’s next exciting Handelian adventure”.

Dessay describes Haïm as the metteur en scène – the stage director – for her voice, while Haïm describes Dessay’s voice as “an exceptional instrument which can take on a thousand forms ... Its virtuosity and flexibility make you forget all the difficulties presented by the music.” Haïm goes on to say that: “Handel is the composer for the voice. He demands special qualities that Natalie possesses: an ability to create colours, to embody words in song and to let the imagination speak.”

Promotional video for Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno, released by Virgin Classics in 2007:

Reviewing Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno, Le Monde de la Musique observed that “the virtuosity and rich palette of Le Concert d’Astrée enable Emanuelle Haïm to match the colours and tempo to the emotion expressed”, while the New York Times wrote that: “Ms. Haïm directs the superb Baroque orchestra Le Concert d'Astrée in a fleet, immaculate performance that dances among airy, profound and sensuous moods. The excellent quartet of singers is led by the radiant, bright voice of the soprano Natalie Dessay, whose rapturous Bellezza traverses innocence, defiance and penitence by way of some impressively agile coloratura. Tu del ciel ministro eletto, her spare, haunting final aria with plaintive violin accompaniment, is glorious.” In Britain, the The Sunday Times found that “Natalie Dessay dazzles in Beauty’s arias – she is gorgeous in the sublime penitential concluding number … With Haïm conducting with élan, this is the best available version of this glorious score.”

Promotional video for Bach Cantatas, released by Virgin Classics in 2009:

Outstanding soprano Natalie Dessay and conductor Emmanuelle Haïm have come to a great understanding with their numerous Handel recordings, especially Delirio (Handel Cantatas), which sealed their musical companionship and paved the way for numerous recording projects on Virgin Classics. After their recent recording of Bach’s Magnificat and Handel’s Dixit Dominus, Natalie Dessay and Emmanuelle Haïm present their first all-Bach recital.

The programme features three of Bach’s superb Cantatas, including the great Ich habe genug, in Bach’s own arrangement for soprano, BWV 82a. The other two Cantatas are two of only four sacred cantatas that Bach wrote for solo soprano: Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen (Praise God in All Lands) is one of Bach's best known cantatas, with an important part for solo trumpet, here performed by young British musician Neil Brough. Both the soprano part, which calls for a high C in the first and last movements, and the solo trumpet part, which at times trades melodic lines with the soprano on an equal basis, are extremely virtuosic. The third cantata Mein Herze schwimmt im Blut (My Heart Swims in Blood) is one of the earliest cantatas Bach composed – its vocal part is technically demanding and contains challenges which Natalie Dessay meets with the highest artistry.

A complete performance of Se pietà di me non senti from Giulio Cesare:

For comparison, here are two alternative versions of this aria, sung by Simone Kermes and Maria Bayo respectively (audio only).

1 comment:

  1. Cheers for this post! I love Dessay, my favourite after Emma Kirkby.

    Like the cleaner look of your site ;)