Il Pomo d’oro
Stefano Montanari, conductor
To entitle an album with the name of a precise period of the year and a date is a choice that suggests that somewhere something extraordinary happened. Dealing with Carnival, it is easy to guess that the place is the European city which is commonly associated with the festivity, “La Serenissima” Venezia (Venice), but the reasons why the Carnival 1729 was noteworthy in the operatic season of the city on the lagoon are not as evident.
It was for a lucky concurrence of circumstances that Venice could boast the contemporary presence of many of the most acclaimed singers of the 18th century on the stages of its theatres on the occasion of Carnival 1729: apart from the famous castrato Carlo Broschi (“Farinelli”) who was to make his Venetian debut at the beginning of the season, Francesca Cuzzoni and Francesco Bernardi (“il Senesino”) arrived from London after an exhausted Handel dismissed them. The presence of these singers made possible to stage several gorgeous operas in just two months, from December 26th to February 27th, at the theatres of San Giovanni Grisostomo, San Cassiano and San Moisè. Among these operas were of course included also the titles recorded here by Ann Hallenberg.
With Carnevale 1729, Swedish mezzosoprano Ann Hallenberg gives another contribution to the Baroque repertoire that is so congenial to her and, after the individual tribute to Farinelli and a monography on the popular character of Agrippina, she has chosen one of the crucial periods for the theatres of the Baroque era as leading wire for this album.
Carnival seems the best time of the year for the Baroque opera. Not all the arias recorded here are lively and none of them can be considered jocose or even goliardic (opera was still a serious and aristocratic matter, after all) and actually the major part have a propensity for contemplation, pain or tenderness, feelings and moods that require relaxed times to be expresses, but, despite this, the selected arias still have a brilliant colour that reminds the listener of joyful celebrations. This colour is wonderfully stressed by the orchestra Il Pomo d’oro, led by Stefano Montanari, but it is mainly the technical refinement that is so demanding for the singer and so exciting for the listener that accomplishes this task better. Anyway, this does not seem the only purpose for which Hallenberg has selected these arias, but it is matched by another one, that of approaching pieces with different technical demands in order to avoid repetition.
Another think that came to my mind after listen the double disc set is that it seems that the marked propensity for slow arias has been determined by the concern to highlight Hallenberg’s qualities as interpreter and not only as a virtuosic singer. Probably thanks also to the more relaxed studio recording, it is possible to appreciate the conscious way with which Hallenberg stresses an important word or sentence and gives a sensitive soul to her characters, as it happens to the confident Mi par sentir la bella (from Geminiano Giacomelli’s Gianguir) and the way in which she gives luminosity to «dolce mia guida e stella».
This attention brings me to another consideration on her coloratura in comparison to a live performance. Hallenberg recorded In braccio a mille furie from Porpora’s Semiramide riconosciuta both in Carnevale 1729 and in the previous album Farinelli, recorded live at the International Festival of Bergen, so that it is easy to perceive the quietness that predominates in the studio recording. In Carnevale 1729, Hallenberg has the time to stress with more precision the important parts of the text and of the music, while in Farinelli she was obliged to neglect them in favour of a more rapid decision, but here she has an élan that in the studio recording is missed. In conclusion, both recordings have their qualities, but to have two of them taken from two different contexts allows the listener to make these additional reflections.
From a general point of view, Hallenberg is flawless. Her coloratura is pyrotechnical as always and the long breaths that allows her to face the arduous passages written to please the Baroque singers stun who listen to her. The colour of her voice, dark but with sparkling high notes, makes her convincing both in male and in female roles, while her velvet gives an aura of elegance to everything she sings.