Corrado Rovaris, conductor
BR Klassik, 2018
Anna Bonitatibus’s albums are always a source of inspiration about composers or noteworthy opera characters. After amazing recordings as L’infedeltà costante and Semiramide. La signora regale, in her latest album Bonitatibus offers an overview of significant travesti roles (also known as “trouser roles”) from early Baroque opera to contemporary music, ending her recording with a song written for a movie (Victor/Victoria, 1982).
Bonitatibus’s aim is to give prominence to roles that were written for female singers, a choice that was determined by the consideration that, «over the past twenty years, the remarkable interest shown in operatic and historical literature centralized on evirati cantori has rather overshadowed the true meaning of travesti or trouser roles, those written expressly for female interpreters», as she states in the booklet.
En travesti is a valuable recording from many points of view. The first – perhaps not the most important but definitely the one that is immediately obvious – is that the arias are chronologically ordered from the oldest to the newest ones. The fact that Orphée et Euridice is placed after Donizetti’s Maria di Rohan is justified by the fact that Orphée’a aria Amour, viens rendre à mon âme is presented in the arrangement written by Hector Berlioz in 1859 for the voice of Pauline Viardot Garcia.
Therefore, the listener can ideally follow the evolution of the trouser roles from the very beginning, with a Baroque aria from Handel’s Radamisto (Ferite, uccidete) written for soprano Margherita Durastanti in 1720 and revealing that at that time female voices were considered suitable for male heroes, even though castrato voices were still preferred.
In was only at the end of the century that things changed and, following the progressive disappearance of evirati cantori, women were more and more frequently chosen to sing roles en travesti. This happened in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro, in which the role of Cherubino (here represented by the aria Voi, che sapete) is perhaps the most famous example of a trouser role before the age of belcanto. Bellini (Romeo in I Capuleti e i Montecchi) and Rossini (the title role in Tancredi) are further steps of this development. At the end of the century, other notable trouser roles are those of Nicklausse in Les contes d’Hoffmann, of Beppe in L’amico Fritz and of the Musico in Manon Lescaut. Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier is a late case of travesti role. As stated before, the present recording end with Victor’s song from Victor/Victoria.
Anna Bonitatibus is as wonderful as always, independently from the fact that she sings Baroque, belcanto of 20th century music. She is perfectly at ease in all the arias and her sensitivity and intelligence make them all valuable gems. Apart from less known arias (as, for example, Ravel’s Toi, le cœur de la rose) where it is easy for a listener to be impressed by the art of a fine singer, even popular arias as Cherubino’s Voi, che sapete have something new to reveal. In the case of Cherubino, it is not only Bonitatibus’s personal approach towards this aria that makes it remarkable, but also the variations. They are refined and embellish Mozart’s music without spoiling it, something that is extremely difficult to achieve with the Salzburg composer.
Apart from the art of variation, Bonitatibus’s performance stands out for two main reasons: her engaged interpretation and her vocal skills. Personally, I think that Bonitatibus’s voice is not one of the most beautiful: her vibrato is sometimes excessive (as in Crazy World and in the aria from Der Rosenkavalier) and her high notes are not exactly beautiful even though she always covers them, but her balanced and considered singing and the elegance of her phrasing make these flaws easy to forget. Moreover, her mezzosoprano is able to convey effectively the widest range of feelings. Sometimes, as in Gelido in ogni vena from Vivaldi’s Farnace, her effort to emphasize the pain of the character is definitely plaintive, but in the major part of the arias, Bonitatibus is perfect.
This is the case of Ferite, uccidete from Radamisto, where Bonitatibus combines an heroic personality to spinning coloratura; or of Di tanti palpiti from Tancredi with its sweet tone; and finally of Romeo’s aria from I Capuleti e i Montecchi that she sings with such plain and yet effective expression of sorrow. These are arias sung by heroes, but Bonitatibus’s sensitivity is equally outstanding in the evocative aria Vois sous l’archet frémissant from Les contes d’Hoffmann and in the thoughtful aria Toi, le cœur de la rose.
Other remarkable features are Bonitatibus’s right choice of accents, which appropriately give prominence to significant portions of the text, and her exceptionally clear diction. Bonitatibus’s attention to the text is particularly valuable in arias as Non!… non… vous n’avez jamais, je gage from Les Huguenots and as O pallida, che un giorno mi guardasti from L’amico Fritz, which prove to be superbly chiselled.
Overall, in En travesti Bonitatibus offers another, fine sample of her artistry and musicianship.
Considering the wide range of arias of the collection, the uniformity of En travesti is one of the most surprising features. I personally think that this is due not only to Bonitatibus’s versatility – which is noteworthy, by the way, by its own right – but also to Corrado Rovaris’s conduction. Rovaris leads the Münchner Rundfunkorchester with great insight and attention for details and overall the album appears as a polished and elegant collection. In addition to nuances of different qualities, ranging from the sad accompaniment of Romeo’s aria to the amusing tone of the arias from Les Huguenots and L’amico Fritz, Rovaris is extremely helpful to the singer, who he follows attentively and closely.
In the end, En travesti is a wonderful recording, suitable for lovers of music of any kind, from the Baroque to the present day.