GLUCK Heroes in Love
All-Gluck aria discs are still not all that common. This century has seen fine examples from Daniel Behle (Decca, 9/14) and (especially) Cecilia Bartoli (Decca, A/01), but probably the next significant one before that is Janet Baker’s (Philips/Eloquence, 10/76). Not surprisingly, then, there are six premiere recordings among the 10 arias offered by Sonia Prina. Furthermore, she draws on none of the familiar French tragédies, nor even on the Italian Orfeo ed Euridice, but instead mainly on operas composed for Italy in the 1740s, plus a handful of later ones for Prague and Vienna. Nearly all therefore date from before Gluck determined on stripped-back expression in Orfeo and Alceste, and it is fair to say that there is no lack of showcase virtuosity – Gluck was after all writing for some of the great singing stars of the day.
Yet one can see here that he was always one to test a singer’s acting skills. Take the note-torrents connecting the mountaintops and valley floors of the angry ‘Se fedele mi brama il regnante’ or the poignant unrequited love-minuet of ‘Se tu vedessi come vegg’io’. Or explore the expressive depths of ‘Ah! non turbi il mio riposo’ with its commiserating solo oboe, and startle at the lightning-quick shot of fear that is ‘M’opprime, m’affanna’. Even more extraordinary is ‘Tradita, sprezzata’, a real find which juggles with visceral force the strongly demarcated musics of pain and rage.
This is perfect stuff for Sonia Prina, whose firm, dark voice, wide tessitura and Olympically agile technique allow her to combine dazzling vocal virtuosity with compelling dramatic expression. She can sound less comfortable, it is true, in the kinder galant lines of ‘Dal suo gentil sembiante’ or ‘Nobil onda’, but on balance I feel that she reveals more of Gluck’s genius than a smoother, perhaps more complacent singer might. Support from laBarocca under Ruben Jais is keen, if in places a little lacking in polish.