Nicola Porpora was a Napolitan composer of Baroque operas and singing teacher, whose the most famous singing student was the castrato Farinelli. Besides some four dozen operas, there are oratorios, solo cantatas with keyboard accompaniment, motets and vocal serenades. Among his larger works, his 1720 opera Orlando, his Venetian Vespers, and the opera Arianna in Nasso have been recorded.
In his setting of Orlando (drawn from Tasso s Orlando furioso) Handel offers us a score of remarkable dramatic power, diversity and originality. Orlando s mad scene and his slumber aria are among the composer s most striking creations. Everything in the opera arouses admiration: the extremely varied scoring, the exuberant vocal writing, the rhythmic invention, and the supple melodies. Includes an essay on opera seria, or not so seria, by Baroque pioneer Jean-Claude Malgoire, himself.
Antonio Vivaldi's probably early Nisi Dominus, RV 608, and Stabat Mater, RV 621, both for solo voice and ensemble, have received several top-notch recordings, so the listener can pick on the basis of voice type and stylistic preference. Countertenor David Daniels has essayed the pair with Fabio Biondi and his Europa Galante ensemble, and you can hear the preternaturally rich contralto Sara Mingardo in a reading with the fiery Italian Baroque specialist Rinaldo Alessandrini. Here you get a countertenor, Philippe Jaroussky, in the Nisi Dominus and a female contralto, Canadian Marie-Nicole Lemieux, in the Stabat Mater. The pairing robs the whole of unity at one level, but makes musical sense; the Nisi Dominus is a more athletic work that benefits from the power of the male voice, while the Stabat Mater, especially in Vivaldi's truncated and highly dramatic setting, may require the audience to identify with a female singer. In the event, Jaroussky is nothing short of sublime in slow sections like the "Cum dederit" (track 4), a masterpiece of quiet tension whose effects are amplified by the extreme, almost respiratory sensitivity of the Ensemble Matheus under director Jean-Christophe Spinosi. Hardly less effective is Lemieux, with an extremely emotional reading in which she seems to mean every word. A bonus on this disc not present on the others is a little Crucifixus from the Credo in G major, RV 592, featuring both singers and well placed in the middle of the program. Superb examples of Baroque vocal art all around, with sound that captures the subtlety and the full dynamic range of the music, which at times gets very hushed indeed.(James Manheim)