Lava - Opera Arias From 18th Century Napoli / Kermes

Regular price $11.99
Added to Cart! View cart or continue shopping.
The fact that Simone Kermes is an incredibly accomplished singer with a sound that can enchant as well as terrify is what makes her truly great.

Precisely why Simone Kermes is not better known in the United States is a mystery: she is probably the most interesting singer of music-before-1850 in the world. She seems incapable of doing anything by rote — each run, trill, bit of phrasing, attack on a high note and plunge into chest voice is decided by the aria and text she is singing. As a result she can come on a bit strong, but being incapable of blandness is a great gift and could almost be enough. The fact that she is also an incredibly accomplished singer with a sound that can enchant as well as terrify is what makes her truly great.

Nine of the twelve arias on this release are world-premiere recordings, and most are gems. She launches into the first, a rage aria by Pergolesi, sounding both crazy and like a Baroque violinist attacking a bow; a similar style is used in an aria from Vinci's Artaserses in which she uses a breathless, almost spoken approach to the text. It is hard to believe the same singer can enchant with an exquisite legato and long, gentle lines in Leonardo Leo's Il demetrio. And for an entirely different experience, in a scene from Hasse's Viriate, she adds a cadenza near the close that runs from high E natural to the A two-and-a-half octaves below. Sometimes she uses vibrato, sometimes a pure white tone. Long-breathed phrases and notes held pianissimo are as beautiful as they are unexpected. She is a singer of extremes and not for the staid, don't-surprise-me opera lover.

– Robert Levine, Listen


LAVA—Opera Arias from 18th-Century Napoli Claudio Osele, cond; Simone Kermes, sop; Le Musiche Nove (period instruments) DEUTSCHE HARMONIA MUNDI 88697 541212 (76:47 Text and Translation)

HASSE Antigono : “Perché, se tanti siete.” Didone Abbandonata : “L’augelletto in lacci Stretto.” Viriate : “Come nave in mezzo all’onde.” LEO Il Demetrio : “Manca sollecita.” PERGOLESI Adriano in Siria : “Lieto così talvolta.” L’Olimpiade : “Mentre dormi amor fomenti”; “Tu me da me dividi.” PORPORA Flavio Anicio Olibrio : “Se non dovesse il piè.” Lucio Papirio : “Morte amara”; “Tocco il porto.” VINCI Artaserse : “Fra cento affanni”; “Non che non ha la sorte”

The bold title, covering a picture of German soprano Simone Kermes lying on a white sheet surrounded by her flaming red hair, and the back cover of the booklet with an 18th-century painting by Jakob Philipp Hackert showing the 1741 eruption of Vesuvius, pretty much sums up the focus of this disc, the rarely heard vocal fireworks that are to be found in almost every Neapolitan opera of the 1730s and 1740s. It has, of course, a twofold purpose: first, as a showpiece for Kermes’ considerable vocal talent, and second, as a means of bringing to disc the efforts of another early-music group from Italy. The programming is eclectic, consisting of a number of various arias dug out of the archives from some of the leading composers of this early period. From this standpoint, many of these are world premieres, and while there is a certain deliberate alternation between the fast, furious, and showy furore movements and the more intimate and solemn ombra arias, it is clear from the very first that these works were meant for audiences to appreciate the vocal talent of the principals rather than imply some sort of sense of uniqueness that would distinguish the Hasse from the Leo, the Porpora from the Vinci. Of course, with the exception of Hasse and Pergolesi, the other three composers are relatively rare on disc, though it must be said that there is something of a mini-revival of Haydn’s mentor and teacher Nicola Porpora in recent years. For example, one can appreciate one of his oratorios, Il Gedeone , in its entirety on cpo, and Nella Anfuso’s rather nice disc of his compact and well-crafted cantatas for voice and continuo are available on Auvidis. Still, Neapolitan opera in its entirety is still somewhat a rarity, save for those live performance recordings that have popped up on a regular basis over the past years. Now if we could only get the Maltese transplants to Naples, Giuseppe Arena and Girolamo Abos, we might get a real southern Italian revival going.

This disc, however singularly focused on individual arias from this collection of works, is one to have. Kermes demonstrates throughout a fine sensibility and vocal flexibility. In the first Porpora aria from Lucio Papirio , she eases into the texture with a perfectly formed mezza di voce , adding just the right amount of vibrato at the very end and climax to give it emphasis. Her lines in the remainder soar, the ornamentation is somewhat subdued so that in her inevitable returns of the da capo sections, her improvisations sparkle. I am particularly impressed by her changes in register, throaty in the lower reaches, but light and crisp (and in tune) in the upper. In some of these, such as the “Fra cento affanni” from Vinci’s Artaserse , one is almost hard put to realize that this is not a castrato singing; there are the necessary breathiness and masculine overtones that breathe life into this excitable text (and the vocal fireworks improvised in the return of the principal section make it even more impressive). Finally, in duets such as with the concertino oboe in Pergolesi’s Adriano in Siria aria “Lieto così talvolta,” her voice blends so that the sounds merge and emerge with considerable ease and clarity. While it may have been said by many musicians that this type of music is stilted and predictable, her interpretations belie that.

Of course, she does have help. Claudio Osele’s small ensemble strives to match the vocal star with grace and ease. I particularly like the continuo, where one can find both the expected theorbo and a Baroque guitar. In the pizzicato aria “Se non dovesse” from Porpora’s Flavio , the result is almost like a chorus of mandolins, lending the performance a truly Neapolitan flavor. The solo oboe playing by Michael Bosch and flute by Lorenzo Cavasanti are nicely articulated in their two arias, and one finds that the string body, reduced to one on a part, performs well both in ensemble and where the occasional solo line is needed. What is more, they play with energy and in tune, always supporting the voice. The two horns, on the other hand, are often trenchant in their performance. In “Vo solcando un mar crudele” by Vinci, the eighth-note ostinati may seem thudding and dull simply because they are in the wrong octave, but one would have to go to the original score to verify this. The only oddity of this, apart from the lower numbers of strings, is that the entire disc is performed at A = 440, which is probably far too high for 18th-century Naples, whether or not they used pungent temperaments like the Werckmeister III. I suppose one ought not to quibble about the authenticity, however, since the performances are clear, bright, and vocally splendid. This is one to recommend highly.

FANFARE: Bertil van Boer

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: DHM54121

  • UPC: 886975412129

  • Label: Deutsche Harmonia Mundi

  • Composer: Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, Johann Adolf Hasse, Leonardo Leo, Leonardo Vinci, Nicolo Porpora

  • Conductor: Claudio Osele

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Le Musiche Nove

  • Performer: Simone Kermes