with Karine Deshayes, mezzosoprano
Academia Montis Regalis
Alessandro de Marchi, conductor
The recording devoted by Bulgarian soprano Sonya Yoncheva to the opere serie written by Georg Friedrich Handel has been proposed (as Petya Ivanova states in the booklet) as a collection of portraits of women that «whether historical or mythic characters, magicians or queens, they are all complex personalities who embrace frailty in order to affirm their strength», even exaggerating a bit this “feminist” side and including the names of the heroines to those of the first interpreters, remarkable women as Francesca Cuzzoni, Faustina Bordoni Hasse and Anna Maria Strada. This is indeed a fascinating introduction to Handel’s world, but in my modest opinion the outcome of the present album reflects only in part the aims of the programme.
Overall, Handel features a voice of extreme beauty and softness, but it has some weaknesses in the execution that compromise the result. I will start from these aspects of the album, which affects the conduction in particular.
Alessandro De Marchi inevitably chooses the slowest times for every aria, regardless to their character, taking away all the vitality from Handel’s music and, even worse, becoming tedious after some tracks with few exceptions, as Lascia ch’io pianga or Io t’abbraccio. It is especially Tornami a vagheggiar, Morgana’s renowned aria from Alcina, that suffers the most and loses its brilliance and shine to become heavy and insipid. In the end, I had the impression to listen to the same tune over and over again.
As for the soprano, I have mixed opinions about her. I do not question that Yoncheva has a velvety, clear and soft voice, that her diction is perfect and that does not lack virtuosity – that she, in short, possesses all the qualities to be an excellent singer, but these qualities alone are not enough to enliven this recording. The major flaw is that, even if she tries to give variety to her roles, she cannot escape from the spell of the conduction and finds little or no characterization at all: the saddest parts are sung with few accents of sorrow and the brilliant ones do not stand out for any pyrotechnic virtuosity. This is particularly evident in Tornami a vagheggiar, in which her coloratura is performed with self-congratulation. As for the major part of the other roles, Yoncheva betrays little emotion and even unhappy moments as Io t’abbraccio from Rodelinda (sung with mezzosoprano Karine Deshayes) or the reflective Pensieri, voi mi tormentate from Agrippina do not convey anything else that the idea of polite singing.
Two of the most successful arias are Lascia ch’io pianga from Rinaldo and Ah! Mio cor! Schernito sei! from Alcina. The first aria shows the blend of silvery voice and liquid and precious accompaniment with a really charming effect, and Yoncheva stands out for some nice trills that enrich the musical texture together with some beautiful variations, that in this aria are better than elsewhere (I had the impression that those in Tornami a vagheggiar were less effective).
As for the aria from Alcina, I think this is definitely the soprano’s best moment and shows a perfect balance between her vocal means and her temperament and it is the real demonstration of what she can actually do. If these features were combined in the rest of the album, Yoncheva’s performance would have been exemplary. I hope that this will happen in other occasions but, for what Handel concerns, I have to say that I am not satisfied because the rare and short moments where something good takes place are scattered in the flatness of a boring conduction and of a not always enthralling singing. My overall impression is that the performers have not find a clear path.
Just one more thing. I wonder why it was included Dido’s aria from Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas in an all-Handel album, as if the subject was not wide enough to offer one more soprano arias to record one more track.