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  • In dolce amore:Arias and Cantatas by Antonio Caldara
  • Berta Joncus (bio)
"Pensieri di amante" (from Scipione nelle Spagne, 1722)
Cantata: Begl'occhi adorati (1715)
"In dolce amore" (from Scipione Africano, 1735)
"Numi, se giusti siete" (from Adriano in Siria, 1732)
Cantata: Rotte I'aspre catene (1715)
"Se tutti i mali miei" (from Demofoonte, 1733)
"Figlia a Roma" (from Scipione Africano, 1735)
"Chi mai d'iniqua Stella" (from Temistocle, 1736)
Cantata: Credea Niso (1712)
"Una donna" (from I disingannati, 1729)
Robin Johannsen (soprano)
Academia Montis Regalis
Alessandro De Marchi
Deutsche Harmonia Mundi (distributed
by Sony Music Entertainment)
88843011692 (digital) (1 disc)

This disc is a debut for soprano Robin Johannsen and composer Antonio Caldara alike. For her first solo CD, Johannsen (European launch 2002) gives us previously unrecorded arias by Caldara (1671–1736). The program shows the soprano to dazzling advantage, the composer less so. At its best, Johannsen's performance whets our appetite for Caldara's meatier compositions that have previously been recorded.

Recognition of Caldara's genius is overdue. He was the Verdi of the Baroque, turning poetry into profound drama for solo singers. Son of a gigging violinist in Venice, Caldara had access to the three epicentres of early Baroque musical experimentation: the Basilica of St. Mark's, Venice's music academies, and the first commercial opera houses. Like many Italian musicians, Caldara made a career in the church—he was an alto singer at St Mark's—even as he cultivated virtuosity in secular repertoire, initially as a cellist. By the age of twenty-eight he was master of the Baroque era's major vocal and instrumental genres, and of the art of synthesizing their respective compositional techniques. After moving to Rome in 1707, he competed with Corelli, Handel, and Domenico Scarlatti for patrons. Artistically, during his Roman years Caldara forged a bold expressiveness within balanced poetic forms, first in Arcadian cantatas and, from 1715, in oratorio, a genre he revolutionized.1 Pragmatically, from 1708 Caldara wooed the Habsburgs, the political enemies of his Italian patrons, smoothing the way to his last appointment, in 1716, as [End Page 221] vice-Kapellmeister at the imperial court in Vienna. Here, where Emperor Charles VI had gathered an outstanding retinue of vocalists and instrumentalists, Caldara realized some of his greatest compositions, in sacred music especially.

Caldara's largely untapped output is an optimal medium for Robin Johannsen. In 2008 the American soprano turned away from the core repertory she had performed since her 2002 debut at the Deutsche Oper Berlin—inter alia, Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro, the Waldvogel in Siegfried, and Soeur Constance in Les Dialogues des Carmélites—to launch a freelance career with Early Music repertory. The move suggests a shrewd assessment of her strengths. Johannsen excels in limpid lyricism, rapid-fire coloratura, and on-the-spot invention—the pillars of eighteenth-century vocal excellence. Plundering Caldara's trove of works for star singers, director Alessandro De Marchi has put together a dazzling showcase of Baroque da capo arias for Johannsen. De Marchi has selected and organized these arias to traverse a range of affects: the audacity of a military hero ("Pensieri di amante," composed for a castrato), the tenderness ("In dolce amore") and sorrow ("Numi, se giusti siete," "Se tutti i mali miei," "Chi mai d'iniqua stella") of heroines, and the stubborn resolution ("Figlia a Roma") of a princess. The pertness of a proto-Mozartian chambermaid ("Una donna") rounds off the operatic selection. That all numbers are drawn from original sources—most of Caldara's output has yet to be edited—speaks for the originality and seriousness of the program.

Johannsen ignites Caldara's music, bringing out its seductive charms through her confident, luminous voice. Her timbre, while light, is warmly expressive; her silvery top notes and effortless flights up and down her register are delightful. Particularly striking is the precocity of her extemporizations: from the opening track ("Pensieri di amante"), she owns Caldara's music, challenging the obbligato oboes to match her ornamentation. When repeating each da capo aria's first section, her variations are strikingly original. It is, however, in plaintive laments ("Numi, se guisti siete," "Se tutti i mali miei...


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