Prima Donna — Karina Gauvin’s new CD

Karina Gauvin Prima Donna with Arion Orchestre Baroque, music director Alexander Weimann. ATMA Classique, 2012. Presto Classical, Grigorian, Amazon.

All the arias by Handel in this collection were either created or reworked in revivals specifically for soprano Anna Maria Strada del Pò.

A few on the playlist are little known Handel, the role of Adelaide in Lotario, and Elmira from Sosarme, for instance. “Scherza in mar” from Lotario is one of those treasures in miniature form, with the A section stating that a small ship sailing serenely will be easily drowned by the sea storm that is likely gathering, and the section B insisting that no, the narrator’s soul will not yield to fear if faced with similar rage of fate, even if it brings death. The music expresses all the changes of imagery and the coloratura runs in waves of a restless sea.

“Dite pace” from Sosarme is probably the fastest, most fireworks-y aria on the disc, a scream aimed toward the implacable heavens. “Tortorella se rimira” from Astianatte, not by Handel but by Leonardo Vinci (1696-1730), is in a resigned andante, about a turtle dove observing her companion caught in a snare. In addition to the usual (agile, dazzling Gauvin coloratura), there are moments of onomatopoeic gurgle of a turtle, and also some incredibly measured and mellifluous ornamentation in the second round.

In the less obscure group, there are two Angelica arias from Handel’s Orlando (“No, non potra” and “Verdi pianti”) and one from Flavio (“Da te parto”). Then there is the block-buster section of the recording, comprised of Alcina arias, the role also written for del Pò. You may think, do I need to hear Alcina’s arias one more time, after so many brilliant renditions, recorded and live? Yes, you do: Gauvin reinvents these to sound like you’re hearing them for the first time. Beginning from the recit “Ah Ruggier crudel” which sounds like a dramatic aria in Gauvin’s treatment, continuing with “Ombre pallide”, “Si, son quella” and “Ah mio cor” all sounding unfamiliarly beautiful. There’s the usual Gauvin metallic sheen and ease across the registers, serious darkness in the gravi, the muscle in the middle, and the gleaming top, but also a dramatic subtlety of the type in evidence in a live opera performance, and a full ownership the text.

One qualm: would have been nice to read the names of musicians and what instruments they are playing, but the booklet only lists the director Alexander Weimann for the entire Arion Orchestre Baroque. One big cheer: it’s fantastic that the government of Canada, through Canada Music Fund, invests in musical culture by helping to fund recordings like this one.

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