Regula Mühlemann – Cleopatra

Baroque Arias

La Folia Barockorchester
Robin Peter Müller, conductor
Sony, 2017

Tracklist and more details

Painters, poets and composers of every century have worked uninterruptedly to transform the historical figure of Cleopatra, the last Queen of Egypt, into a more or less bizarre and unbelievable myth. The personality and actions of this cunning and clever woman have been reinterpreted or even distorted, depending on the poetical or political orientations of the artist in question, so that now it is really difficult to create a verisimilar and balanced portrait of this controversial but remarkable figure of the past.

Cleopatra in Literature, Art and Music

In literature, the most famous Cleopatra is the Shakespearian heroine, but, as it was common in Shakespeare’s time, the English playwright did not have a good opinion of her. Shakespeare portrays Cleopatra as an hysterical woman who does not resemble very much the coldblooded and determined Queen she very likely was.

Painters have been more benevolent with Cleopatra, especially thinking of the pale, pitiful victim portrayed by Guido Reni, but that was only one side of the woman and perhaps not the most significant one.

For what concerns music, things are not much better. In this art, the propensity to re-elaborate historical figures is so well-established that sometimes creates real frauds, as it happens with Anne Boleyn or Mary Stuart.

Anyway, it does not compete to the arts but to historical research to restore reality. Therefore, there is nothing wrong with giving free rein to fantasy in fictional representations as plays, paintings and music works. In opera, in particular, the character of Cleopatra was a very popular one, to the point that she appears in no less than eighty works, leaving aside cantatas and other short compositions.

The most famous operatic Cleopatra is for sure the heroine of Handel’s Giulio Cesare in Egitto. To this, obvious choice, Swiss soprano Regula Mühlemann adds a large group of other Cleopatras, from operas composed by Graun, Hasse, Legrenzi, A. Scarlatti, Vivaldi, Mattheson and Sartorio.

Regula Mühlemann’s Cleopatra

Sensitivity of a Baroque Singer

The programme is fascinating. Rejecting a dull representation of the Egyptian Queen, Mühlemann ranges over every possible mood and situation and, from time to time, she portrays a desperate, passionate or angry woman. In this way, this recording has the non-secondary value to represent a well-rounded character, facing any situation a woman can live.

The only thing that can improve and perfect such an intriguing guiding thread is, of course, a fine performance. Mühlemann accomplishes this task with remarkable skill. The repertoire includes operas composed in the 17th and 18th centuries, which means that the musical writing is extremely demanding and requires sound technique and self-assurance.

Well Mühlemann possesses these qualities and adds some more. Her diction is perfectly clear, her phrasing is smooth. Her coloratura is flamboyant, as you can hear in arias as Tra le procelle assorto, a typical aria di tempesta.

Interpretative Insight

Next to the pyrotechnical element which is the main element of a Baroque album, Mühlemann adds her heartfelt sympathy for her heroine(s), especially in moments of sorrow as Se pietà di me non senti and even more in Quael candido armellino, where she is able to keep the listener’s attention despite the length of the aria (it lasts eleven minutes!). As a sample of tenderness, the arias Se tu sarai felice and Vò goder senza contrasto are noteworthy, also for the abandonment with which Mühlemann sings them.

Perhaps, in arias as the furious Morte col fiero aspetto a little more temperament would have been necessary to express fully the Queen’s resoluteness to die on her throne. Also, it would have been better to avoid the rushed “Morte!”, which is the only awkward details of the entire album. Overall, however, this aria too is quite enjoyable. Squarciami pure il seno, which is almost of the same kind, is definitely better, although some high notes are not as limpid as they should.

Cleopatra is an outstanding album. Some small flaws cannot efface the fact that Mühlemann sings with intelligence and skill and that her study of this complex character is deep and acute.

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