"It's probably premature to speak of a revival, but suddenly the seldom-heard music of Nicola Porpora has resurfaced often enough to claim center stage on a trio of CDs. The 18th-century Neapolitan opera composer, previously better known as Handel's London rival than for his own music, is responsible for the lion's share of the music on Cecilia Bartoli's Sacrificium CD and new DVD, which delve, sometimes luridly, into music written for castrati (for those of you new to this slice of music history: yes, that). Same for a new CD, Lava, by Simone Kermes, Bartoli's current rival in over-the-topness. Naples. Lava. Opposite of Iceland, but smoke galore.
Into that fray steps soprano Karina Gauvin, the Morgana in last year's stunning Handel Alcina with Joyce DiDonato. Gauvin's Porpora Arias (ATMA Classique) is led by out early-music maestro Alan Curtis and the people who brought you that Alcina, his ace Il Complesso Barocco. Probably only a singer of Gauvin's cultivation - who demurs from the charades of her above-named colleagues and relies instead on those tired old values of beauty of timbre, solidity of technique and depth of psychological penetration - could bring off an all-Porpora CD. But this is one you can listen to from beginning to end without looking at your watch. And there's more to hear in it every time you go back, which is likely to be far more often than you ever thought." -Tim Pfaff -- The Bay Area Reporter - June 17, 2010 - http://www.ebar.com/arts/art_article.php?sec=music&article=730
Canadian soprano Karina Gauvin, whose beautiful voice has graced a wide repertoire ranging from rare Baroque fare to Samuel Barber's Knoxville: Summer of 1915, here devotes her impeccable technique to the rarely heard music of Neapolitan composer Nicola Porpora (1686-1768). The melodies are so beguiling, the showcase opportunities and coloratura challenges so great, that it's hard to understand why six of the 11 arias on Gauvin's CD are world premiere recordings. What's easy to understand is the beauty of her singing. Cecilia Bartoli's equally beautiful, recently released Sacrificium (see review) shares with Gauvin's CD a recording of Porpora's "Nobil onda" (Noble spring) from his opera Adelaide. The singing is as different as the English translations: Gauvin's being sweet and lovely, Bartoli's sensationally fast and furious. Their period-orchestra accompaniment is equally different, Bartoli's displaying far more of a tangy, early-music edge. I wouldn't want to be by my fireside without either version. And I certainly wouldn't want to be without Gauvin's disc, whose warmth will make any Baroque music lover (or indeed any vocal music devotee) one happy holiday camper. -- San Francisco Classical Voice, Jason Victor Serinus, November 20, 2009
Following the success of her recent Handel disc for ATMA Classique, Gauvin returns to the studio for a disc of arias by Nicola Porpora (1686-1786). Gauvin and conductor Alan Curtis unearthed these long forgotten pieces at the British Museum, choosing the best ones for this recording. Some of these compositions have not seen the light of day for centuries. It demonstrates once again the wealth of wonderful material waiting to be discovered. One can't find a more worthy exponent of these arias than Canadian soprano Karina Gauvin, who possesses the beauty of tone and stunning technique to do these works justice. The very first aria, "Nobil onda" from Adelaïde, is a veritable trill-rest - I tried to count the number and gave up mid-aria! The bravura pieces require great agility, while the adagio pieces demand rock-solid legato and a real sense of line, not to mention plenty of breath! The recorded sound is crisp and clear, with just the right balance of orchestra and soloist. The booklet has a substantial article on Porpora, a piece on the baroque band Il Complesso Barocco, plus artist bios. There are also nice photos of the recoding sessions. Considering the musicological importance of this recording, a few facsimiles of the original manuscripts would have been nice. At a generous 77 minutes, it is best to sample the arias a few at a time. This is a "must-have" disc for admirers of Gauvin and rare Baroque repertoire. -- La Scena Musicale, JKS, October 2009
Here is a well-chosen program of arias and instrumental music from the pen of Nicola Porpora (1686-1768), a Neapolitan composer who rivaled Handel and Hasse in popularity and counted the castrato Farinelli and the librettist Metastasio among his friends. Porpora's cantatas and instrumental music have been fairly well represented on CD, the operas less so. Currently, there are only two complete recordings of Porpora's operas listed on arkivmusic.com. Accordingly, this disc contains "world premiere recordings" of arias from Adelaïde, Ezio, Polifemo, Imeneo, and Angelica. Given the track record of Baroque specialist Alan Curtis, I wouldn't be surprised if an intégral of one or more of these operas is already in the works. The performers seem really inspired by the music, and the recorded sound is quite atmospheric, thanks to the recording venue, an old monastery near Venice. Surely a candidate for next year's Want List, right? Well, not mine, at any rate.
The liner notes cite "superstar" status for Canadian soprano Karina Gauvin, and there's no denying that. She is somewhat of a Baroque specialist, having participated in several complete recordings of operas of Handel, Lully, and Scarlatti under conductors Alan Curtis, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Bernard Labadie, and Ottavio Dantone. She has a huge following in Canada, thanks in part to former Fanfare columnist Jürgen Gothe, who used to feature her regularly on his late, lamented radio program. A further indication of Gauvin's popularity is this quote from the magazine Opera Canada: "[H]er laser-beam soprano is clear and focused, with vibrato only used sparingly and tastefully to color and phrase." The trouble is, except for the "laser-beam" part, I don't hear any of that. Yeah, it's all very dramatic, but this style of singing would be more appropriate in 19th-century opera. It's exciting vocalism, no doubt, but along with drama, the music also calls for finesse, delicacy, sensitivity, variation in tone and dynamics, and far less vibrato. Although Gauvin does manage some quiet singing at times, I get the odd feeling that she's trying to downsize her voice to fit the music.
I realize that my opinion may be in the minority, but one only has to read accounts of the great singers of the 18th century to appreciate that present-day Baroque singing bears little resemblance to the original. For starters, there is the question of vibrato: back then, singers used vibrato selectively as an expressive ornament, rather than a constant element of tone production, as it is today. Okay, so you don't like vibratoless singing, but in the case of Gauvin, her heavy vibrato leads to some technical issues. Case in point is her trill, which is simply a wider version of her vibrato. Or her passaggi, which could be cleaner than they are. Perhaps I'm being too hard on this young soprano; after all, her singing is never less than good, and conforms to the accepted norm for Baroque opera. In live opera, bravura singing of this kind would bring down the house; under the harsh focus of the recording microphone, one tends to react somewhat differently. In reality, it amounts to a rather strange hybrid--a Rossini/Verdi/Puccini soprano singing 18th-century Italian opera arias.
The instrumental contribution from Il Complesso Barocco is quite outstanding--yet another example of the many excellent period-instrument orchestras that have sprung up around Italy like dandelions in spring. The sole instrumental number on this CD--the Overture to Arianna--is very rousing, and features some excellent wind playing in addition to the fine string playing, the latter pretty much de rigueur these days in Italian period-instrument groups.
In short, recommended primarily to fans of Karina Gauvin and her style of Baroque singing. If she ever records Mimi or Violetta, I'll be one of the first to buy a copy. -- Fanfare, Christopher Brodersen , Jan-Feb 2010
Nicola Porpora (1686-1768) was a Neapolitan composer who penned more than 50 operas. He was as well known for being the voice teacher of one of the greatest singers of the time (and arguably the finest castrato), Farinelli, and also of Cafarelli, who was considered to be almost in the same league. Haydn was his apprentice; Metastasio was his frequent librettist. His operas are ideal examples of high Baroque, complete with absurdities and extraordinarily decorated vocal lines. He may not have been a "great" composer, but he was no slouch either; his operas were the toast of London, Vienna, Venice, and Naples, and the anti-Handel faction in London had its money on him to overthrow Handel. It didn't work. (Both men wrote Arianna operas, Imeneo operas, and Orlando operas.) Porpora was Kapellmeister in Dresden, but the introduction of Hasse and his wife, Faustina, ended that position. In the 1750s, he taught Haydn in Vienna. Though his arias tend to have a generic similarity to each other, his orchestration can be splendid--just listen to those trumpets on the second track of this CD, "Non sempre invendicata"; to the pair of flutes that accompany Galatea's lament from Polifemo, track 5; or to the spicy oboes for Arianna's aria, track 13. And for those who love florid vocal writing, Porpora's about as satisfying as a Baroque composer can get. Canadian soprano Karina Gauvin has been sneaking to the forefront of music-lovers' consciousness for a while--a little Samuel Barber here, some Canteloube there, a bit of Mozart and Mahler. Then comes a disc of French Baroque music, a Handel disc, and suddenly the role of Morgana in an all-star Alcina (Archiv)--and she is a singer you look forward to. If the repertoire weren't so rarefied, this CD would push her over the edge into true stardom. Her voice is both bright and warm; a true soprano, the middle of her voice has sufficient body so that no emphases may be lost. Her trill is the real thing. She has taste--her embellishments are impeccably timed and tuned and it's clear she could show off more if she chose to. She sounds Italian in this music, with fine use of portamento in the many slow numbers, plenty of temperament for the outbursts ("Poor me!" or "Vengeance!" or "You coward!"). There's nothing "white" or early-music about her delivery. She's probably not a high-note queen; if she has high Cs, Ds, etc., her voice probably would not be as evenly produced as it is. As mentioned, the music may not be a collection of masterpieces, but it gives immense pleasure; Porpora, to give the devil his absolute due, knew how to write for the voice, and Gauvin has quite the voice. Vivica Genaux, René Jacobs, and Cecilia Bartoli have recorded Porpora arias--this is a composer absolutely worth getting to know. A CD of his arias was recorded by a countertenor named Angelo Manzotti on the Tactus label; it is terrifyingly bad--run from it. This one, however, is highly recommended. -- ClassicsToday.com, Robert Levine, September 25, 2009
Nicola Porpora (16861768) may not be a household name today. But the Neapolitan contemporary of Alessandro Scarlatti and Handel influenced, and was influenced by, his famous contemporaries. His operas and sacred cantatas epitomized the Italian Baroque style. In particular, his florid, beautifully decorated arias made a fashion statement for the age.
In Porpora Arias, Canadian soprano Karina Gauvin, assisted by the ensemble il Complesso Barocco, now celebrating its 30th anniversary under its founder, American harpsichordist Alan Curtis. This will not be music to every listener's taste, but to those who are familiar with the conventions of baroque opera in the Neapolitan style, it is a veritable treasure trove. No fewer than five of the 13 arias on the program receive their world premiere recordings here.
In interpreting these arias, Karina Gauvin is particularly sensitive to Porpora's greatest strength his unerring ability to adapt the vocal line to the progress of emotions sometimes changing very suddenly and dramatically in the middle of a verse, so that the singer must adjust her breath stream accordingly. A good example of the conflicted emotions Porpora's heroines experience is in the aria "Mentre rendo a te la vita" (Now that I give you life) in which Angelica reflects that saving her faithless lover's life will only increase her own pain. The ripple of the melodic line splits into two four-syllable groups on the words of the text. When the rhythm speeds up in the second half of the verse, "Passa, o dio, la tua ferita / da quel fianco a questo cor" (Life transfers to my heart the wound in your side) the vocal line sobs with pain and sorrowful modulations.
Numerous other examples might be given to show the artistry Porpora's florid style requires of the human voice. This is a singer's art par excellent, requiring considerable psychological and interpretive insight as well as an extremely wellsupported breath stream that can encompass within it the composer's highly imaginative trills and other baroque embellishments. In these arias from Arianna, Adelaida, Ezio, Angelica, Imeneo, and Polifemo, Gauvin impresses with her absolute mastery of very demanding material. -- Audio Video Club of Atlanta, Phil Muse, October 2009
Nicola Porpora was a shining star of the Neapolitan school of music in the first half of the 18th Century. His operas follow the standard opera seria musical and dramatic formats. Metastasio was a frequent partner, and many of his librettos have been reused and adapted (La Clemenza di Tito is perhaps the most famous example of the latter). Wronged lovers, noble Greeks and Romans, characters seeking vengeance--stock opera seria material. Porpora at his best composed music of great beauty and formidable technical demands. Perhaps mine is a minority opinion, but the complete works and the arias I have heard, pleasurable though they are, do not have the individuality and depth of expression of Handel and Vivaldi operas.
Canadian soprano Karina Gauvin nails these arias with a sexy, alluring sound and excellent technique, making the music sound better than it is. Curtis once again shows himself to be a great interpreter of baroque opera. He gets his marvelous period ensemble to accompany Ms Gauvin with sensitivity and as much fire as possible in these predictable arias. I enjoyed this recording each time I played it. But for the life of me, I couldn't remember the music very well--something that never happens after Handel or Vivaldi. Texts and translations, notes and bios. -- American Record Guide, Michael Mark, January/February 2010
Sic Transit Gloria Mundi - The glory of this work is fleeting. What an apt description of the current status of Nicola Porpora. At one time, creator (with poet Petro Metastasio) of some of the greatest triumphs of musical performance that pleased monarchs, delighted their courts and held sway over public imagination - today Porpora is little known and even less recorded. Six of 14 arias on this disc are world premiere recordings. How could the vocal teacher of castrati Caffarelli and Porporino, female superstars La Romanina, Nicola Grimaldi and Lucia Facchinelli, the man who discovered his most important protégé, Farinelli, be so thoroughly neglected? Well, there are two reasons for that: there are no more castrati and, secondly and most importantly, the music of Nicola Porpora was always meant to be a neutral background on which to showcase the castrato's voice. His arias are not necessarily brilliant or groundbreaking - in fact, many of them seem repetitious. However, endowed with the sound of the castrato's voice they must have been stunning. Such voice is impossible to replicate. Even for the film Farinelli, the producers digitally "mashed" the counter-tenor and soprano, to achieve a desired effect. The Canadian soprano Karina Gauvin continues to amaze with the beauty of her voice, increasingly focusing on Baroque music. Technically flawless, in this recording she is augmented by the "first leaguers" of period performance, Il Complesso Barocco and Alan Curtis. So if no single human being can reproduce the castrato's voice, we owe Ms. Gauvin thanks for approximating it for us. -- Wholenote, Robert Tomas, November 1 - December 7, 2009
This beautiful, addictive disc opens a beckoning view on a virtually unknown Baroque landscape, recalling in this respect Drew Minter's Arias for Senesino (HM) and Cecilia Bartoli's Gluck opera seria arias (Decca). Canadian soprano Karina Gauvin is known for appearances at Glimmerglass, with the Boston Early Music Festival and at Carnegie Hall -- as well as, increasingly, in European venues. Working with veteran early music conductor Alan Curtis, she presents some very compelling operatic music by Nicola Porpora (1686-1768), one of the leading vocal composers of his time.
Trained in Naples, Porpora found favor with its Hapsburg rulers and was able to carve out a substantial international career in major European centers, tapped for both private and public commissions. Über-librettist Pietro Metastasio was an early and frequent collaborator: the Ezio and Angelica excerpts use his texts, the Arianna material is Paolo Rolli's close approximation of the master's Didone Abbandonata. Also a famous vocal pedagogue, Porpora numbered among his protegés such superstar singers as Caffarelli and Farinelli. Metastasio's patron, the soprano La Romanina, created Angelica's tender "Mentre rendo a te la vita," which Gauvin offers here.
Arianna in Nasso has been available on disc before, an iffy performance from Savona on Bongiovanni in which Tiziana Fabbricini does not begin to afford the vocal or stylistic pleasure Gauvin yields in the five well-crafted excerpts here. Gauvin aces the divisions, trills -- they come almost as thick and fast as in Hasse's music -- and rhythmic verve for which Porpora's more energetic music calls; when moods turn contemplative (as in "Non son io che parlo" from Ezio), her liquid yet dark-highlighted tone brings far more depth and variety of color to bear than do many competitors.
Among the dozen vocal selections and one overture (Arianna) included, five arias are given world premiere recordings. Porpora -- like Handel, whose similar da capo arias at best manifest greater psychological acuity -- has a few basic aria modes that he reworks in multiple ways. But the music, consistently fluid and fresh, is not without formal variety; it would be interesting to see if any of Porpora's operas sustains interest over an evening -- starring Karina Gauvin, please! Curtis and his band, Il Complesso Barocco, furnish alert, sonorous support. -- Opera News, David Shengold, November 2009
Youth is fleeting - experience is forever
There was a time, not so long ago, when experience and maturity were deemed among the best qualifications a conductor could bring to a podium.
Here is an original motto for the decade to come: Out with the new and in with the old.
CD obituaries proliferated, but the Analekta and ATMA labels remained bizarrely viable. Good voices - Gauvin, Hervieux, Lord - busted out all over. And in the dying days of 2009, there were still more baroque and contemporary ensembles in Montreal than you could shake a conductor's stick at.
Nice decade. I might miss it. -- The Gazette, Arthur Kaptainis, January 2010