MONTEVERDI Lettera amorosa
Soprano Mariana Flores’s last collaboration with Leonardo Garcia Alarcón and the musicians of Cappella Mediterranea, ‘Cavalli: Heroines of the Venetian Baroque’ (11/15), earned her a place on the Recital shortlist for the 2016 Gramophone Awards. Now the musical team reunites, travelling back in time for a programme of music by Monteverdi.
The world isn’t exactly short of Monteverdi discs by sopranos but Flores makes a convincing if rather classic case for yet another addition to the bulging catalogue. Taking us through the operatic A Z (Orfeo to Poppea) via Arianna, the Seventh and Eighth Books of Madrigals and sundry other smaller works, Flores and Alarcón explore the emotional gamut of Monteverdi’s music a voce sola. The choices may be predictable (La Musica’s Prologue, Ottavia’s monologue, Arianna and the Nymph’s Laments, ‘Ohimè ch’io cado’, ‘Voglio di vita uscir’) but the performances aren’t.
Flores’s instrument is something of a chameleon, capable of narrowing right down to the breathiest, lightest feather-touch for the opener ‘Se i languirdi miei sguardi’ or adding significant dramatic and tonal ballast for the Orfeo Prologue or Arianna’s Lament. She’s not afraid to push well beyond beauty (uncomfortably so, at times) if the drama demands, and her Arianna is more Sarah Kane than Ophelia in the violence of her grief-stricken madness. But where she falls short is in the delicate irony and playfulness that we find in the tension between text and vamping, dancing rhythms in ‘Voglio di vita uscir’ or ‘Ohimè ch’io cado’ – tracks that lack the knowing irreverence we find in recordings by L’Arpeggiata or Roberta Invernizzi.
Alarcón’s musicians also tend to be a little straight-faced (not to say strait-laced) in their accompaniments; but if the result lacks a little humour, a little lightness, it’s a loss offset by the edgy musical drama they bring to Monteverdi’s tragic stories and heroines.