Les Talens Lyriques - Ensemble
This aptly-named CD presents arias by Handel that find their characters in some sort of great emotional stress. This of course means that in addition to searing characterization, the singer will require a bag of vocal tricks that run the whole gamut: trills, wide leaps, endless coloratura, and all of the other "gimmicks" Handel expected his singers to produce to express these feelings. Joyce DiDonato, a marvelous mezzo who already has made quite a name for herself in Rossini, is more than up to the task. Hers is a lyric sound that sits comfortably in the upper reaches of her range and has little trouble with any notes at all; but she is not a booming contralto-or even a Marilyn Horne-like, dark-hued mezzo. This does not stop her from succeeding brilliantly here.
From the opening aria-Serse's call to the Furies when he realizes that his beloved loves his brother-we hear a type of never-let-up intensity that is indicative: she exclaims with impeccable diction and killer accuracy. Because the voice is not heavy she could easily rely on her ease with coloratura alone for expression; but here and elsewhere she snarls, sounding as if her teeth are clenched, and gets lost in the character.
You may worry at her choice of "Iris, hence away" from Semele because it lies so low in the voice, but DiDonato doesn't miss one note in the low-lying runs and she enunciates every word of the text. With Medea (from Teseo) and Dejanira (from Hercules, a role she has sung on stage) we meet a pair of women who today would be referred to as bi-polar: their mood swings and hallucinations are made brilliantly clear, and some nasty chest voice is used to underscore their lunacy. By contrast, Ariodante's dark, deeply unhappy "Scherza infida" keeps the interest by an adherence to strict rhythms and a general internalization of sorrow; DiDonato's concentration is stunning.
Every aria here is a worthy experience and each grips the listener. Christophe Rousset and his Les Talens Lyrique have a remarkable sense of drama, with mostly sharp attacks and a few surprises, like the sympathetic, undulating accompaniment to the insistent "Scheza infida". DiDonato is a remarkable singer and this is a terrific CD.
-Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com
Fury is not a subject that many singers would choose for their first solo aria disc; it doesn't exactly promise a relaxing listen. Plus, if you were looking to be noticed, Handel arias would perhaps not be the best choice in an anniversary year when CD reviewers' desks are buckling under the weight of a thousand and one recordings of his works. However, American mezzo Joyce Didonato has scored a triumph with this performance which not only shows her phenomenal technical talent, but verily crackles with dramatic fire.
The arias are drawn from Serse, Teseo, Guilo Cesare, Admeto, Hercules, Semele, Imeneo, Ariodante, and Amadigi, so a comprehensive selection. They were recorded live with Christophe Rousset and Les Talens Lyriques at concert performances in April 2008 at Brussels' Theatre de la Monnaie. It needs to be said that this is no opportunistic anniversary recording; Handel's music has featured strongly in Didonato's onstage and recording career to date, including stage performances of the title roles of Alcina and Ariodante and a Barbican performance as Hercules' wife which earned her a nomination for a Laurence Olivier Award. Didonato's evident excitement for this music is evident in her note in the CD booklet, and the recording itself is stunning throughout. Technically, she can't be bettered. Her legato is exceptionally smooth, particularly notably in Ariodante's ''Scherza infida'', her colouratura is dazzling, her high notes perfect even in the heat of passion, and her dynamic range is a joy. It should go without saying that Didonato is a brilliant actress, as you don't do a disc of mad scene arias if drama isn't your forte, but it is still worth drawing attention to. Her portrayal of Dejanira's grief at the supposed death of Hercules is achingly convincing, not to mention beautiful. When anger is the prevalent emotion things become particularly exciting; as Handel's contemporary, William Congreve, once wrote, ''hell has no…fury like a woman scorned'', and Didonato spits venomous anger like there was no tomorrow. She doesn't fall shy of lending an element of harshness - almost ugliness - to her voice for the odd phrase either. All in all, a marvellous solo album debut.