- Performer: Danielle de Niese
- Orchestra: Les Arts Florissants
- Conductor: William Christie
- Composer: George Frideric Handel
- Audio CD (October 9, 2007)
- SPARS Code: DDD
- Number of Discs: 1
- Label: Decca
- ASIN: B000VKJ6TA
- Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #287,319 in CDs & Vinyl (See Top 100 in CDs & Vinyl)
Danielle de Niese - Handel Arias
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Decca is proud to announce the debut solo recording from soprano Danielle de Niese who became a star overnight after her stunning performance as Cleopatra in Handel's Giulio Cesare at Glyndebourne in 2005. She will reprise her signature role in the United States at the Chicago Lyric Opera beginning in early November 2007. On this album, Danielle continues to explore her love of Handel's vocal music, singing a selection of arias which perfectly showcase her wide dramatic range, charisma and fresh vocal qualities. Revered Handel specialist William Christie joins her to conduct the award-winning period orchestra Les Arts Florissants. The disc contains pieces from both famous and lesser-known works. These include Giulio Cesare, Rinaldo, Semele, Teseo and Amadigi, as well as an aria from the rarely performed oratorio Apollo e Dafne. At the age of 19, Danielle was the youngest-ever member of the Met's Young Artist Program and made her debut there as Barbarina in Le Nozze di Figaro (with Bartoli, Fleming and Terfel). Since then, her career rise has been meteoric and she has gained a reputation as an unparalleled singing actress, particularly in the Baroque repertoire where she has performed with many of its great exponents including Minkowski, Rousset and Christie.
Danielle de Niese, who had her own TV show in Los Angeles when she was still a teenager, has grown into a lovely, alluring, gifted opera singer. The voice is substantial, her agility, impressive, her vibrato is warm and engaging. Hers is not a white, early-music sound, but she has the technique for all of early music's tricks: easy octave leaps, smooth legato backed up by excellent breath control, skill in rapid divisions sung without aspirates. She lacks the ability to sing absolute pianissimo--to spin a line in an ethereal way (as in otherwise fine versions of "Lascia ch'io pianga" and "Piangero "). Her presence as a "performer" is vivid and intelligent. Semele's "Endless pleasure, endless love" is coquettish but warm; "Dolce riposo" from Teseo has just the right sense of desire; "Tornami a vagheggiar" from Alcina is splendid in its virtuosity. The famous "Da tempeste" from Giulio Cesare shows her at her best--here is Cleopatra finally feeling as if she's back in control. William Christie leads Les Arts Florissants in classy but spunky readings. --Robert Levine
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Several hostile reviewers compared de Niese to Beverly Sills. That's a valid match-up in several ways, so I dug out a DVD and some aged vinyls of Sills and listened. Both singers have amazing clarino trumpet-of-judgment upper registers, and both are ready to leap fearlessly from octave to octave. But in a direct confrontation, de Niese surpasses Sills easily. Sills depended for her 'intensity' on an unvarying vibrato, like a rookie baseball pitcher who throws only country fastballs. De Niese's highly developed technique includes a battery of vibrato choices -- wider or narrower, slower or faster, constant or expanding, or none at all -- like a wily veteran pitcher with a curveball, a sinker, and a change-up to offer at the bedazzled batter. And then there's tuning. How could anyone with clean ears not notice that tuning was Beverly Sills's weak point? Dramatic flair she had, and that's probably the basis for comparison. Sills could light up a stage. Danielle de Niese can light up a whole production, as I've seen her do in live performance of La Nozze di Figaro and on both of her DVDs, of Handel's Giulio Cesare and of Monteverdi's L'Incoronazione di Poppea.
There are two tracks, out of twelve, on this CD that I consider less than satisfactory: Lascia ch'io pianga from Rinaldo, and Dolce riposo from Teseo. De Niese overpowers the former and misses the 'sweet repose' of the latter. She's better at Fury and Ecstasy than at Sorrow or Tenderness. She makes a better brazen seductress than a wistful neglected lover. In La Nozze, she was well cast as Susana, while she would have been miscast as the Countess. Think what she could do with Medea! It's odd, by the way, to find fault with an "Early Music" singer for overpowering an aria, since the usual refrain is that historically informed performers sound thin or bland in comparison to the divas of the last century. I have an inkling that Danielle de Niese's flamboyant vocalization of these arias might come rather close to the style and manner of some of Handel's favorite castrati, who were applauded for their fiery 'potency' on stage.
Normally I'd probably drop a star from this rating for the unlovely singing of the two tracks mentioned, but there's so much drive and exuberance to be heard on other tracks that I choose to be gallant. De Niese has chosen, consciously I'm sure, to interpret theses arias with her maximum dramatic intensity. Some listeners will feel that she's chosen a musical personality over refined musicianship.
Added later: Let me give you an opportunity to hear just how GOOD, how controlled, de Niese's vocal technique is: listen to the first track on this CD - the flamboyant aria "Da tempeste il legno infranto" - and them listen to the last track on the CD 'Handel: Apollo e Dafne', the same aria sung by a star of an earlier generation, Roberta Alexander, conducted by Nikolas Harnoncourt. De Niese is indisputably better technically. Her intonation is more secure and more consistent. Her articulation is cleaner and yet more florid; Alexander's phrasing sounds smudged by comparison. You may also hear what amounts to an evolution of style in the orchestra, from Concentus Musicus to Les Arts Florissants, toward a distinctively baroque affect. And I think you'll hear why conductor William Christie has chosen to collaborate with Danielle De Niese; they are on the same wavelength.
de Niese is exuberant and sings Handel with some degree of abandon. I find it infectious.
The two pieces from "Giulio Cesare in Egitto" are captivating. "Tornami a vagheggiar" from"Alcina" is sung quite well. I find her voice to be quite attractive and she sings with great agility. Certainly there is room for growth. Her efforts at trills here and there are hardly compelling. She ought to grow in her characterizations and subtleties in the art of singing.
But what a nice start in this CD!
Of the three sopranos at the start of their careers, she seems the most animated, the most willing to "take chances," and the most enchanting. Where her career goes? We cannot say. But this is a very promising harbinger of future accomplishment.
As for DeNiese, like other reviewers have mentioned, try to catch her in the 2005 Glynebourne production of Julius Caesar in Egypt. The Opera stands or falls on the premise that the most powerful man in the world falls in love with what he thinks is a servant girl. No question Danielle knocks it out of the park: simply stunning beauty & great stage talent.
The "Da tempeste" from Julius Caesar, "Tornami A Vagheggiar" from Alcina, the Semele arias, and the arias from Teseo are probably the best. The roles of Cleopatra and Morgana allow de Niese to show off her admirable coloratura, and the Semele arias are flirty and delightful. The Teseo arias allow de Niese to show off octave jumps that are fairly impressive (though, I wonder if there was a little help from well placed microphones).
The "Laschia ch'io pianga" from Rinaldo is a bit tepid, and weirdly sung. Not quite as beautifully done as other sopranos and even mezzo sopranos have sung it in the past. However, the "Vo Far Guerra" is vastly better than the other Rinaldo aria.
All in all, this CD is probably nothing grand in terms of Handelian recordings, especially considering the contributions of Jennifer Larmore, Lorraine Hunt Lierberson, Cecilia Bartoli, and Renee Fleming (to name a few), but it certainly is not quite so bad as to be ignored, for it's a decent introduction to a new singer.