This aptly-named CD presents arias by Handel that find their characters in some sort of great emotional stress. This of course means that in addition to searing characterization, the singer will require a bag of vocal tricks that run the whole gamut: trills, wide leaps, endless coloratura, and all of the other "gimmicks" Handel expected his singers to produce to express these feelings. Joyce DiDonato, a marvelous mezzo who already has made quite a name for herself in Rossini, is more than up to the task. Hers is a lyric sound that sits comfortably in the upper reaches of her range and has little trouble with any notes at all; but she is not a booming contralto--or even a MarilynRead more Horne-like, dark-hued mezzo. This does not stop her from succeeding brilliantly here.
From the opening aria--Serse's call to the Furies when he realizes that his beloved loves his brother--we hear a type of never-let-up intensity that is indicative: she exclaims with impeccable diction and killer accuracy. Because the voice is not heavy she could easily rely on her ease with coloratura alone for expression; but here and elsewhere she snarls, sounding as if her teeth are clenched, and gets lost in the character.
You may worry at her choice of "Iris, hence away" from Semele because it lies so low in the voice, but DiDonato doesn't miss one note in the low-lying runs and she enunciates every word of the text. With Medea (from Teseo) and Dejanira (from Hercules, a role she has sung on stage) we meet a pair of women who today would be referred to as bi-polar: their mood swings and hallucinations are made brilliantly clear, and some nasty chest voice is used to underscore their lunacy. By contrast, Ariodante's dark, deeply unhappy "Scherza infida" keeps the interest by an adherence to strict rhythms and a general internalization of sorrow; DiDonato's concentration is stunning.
Every aria here is a worthy experience and each grips the listener. Christophe Rousset and his Les Talens Lyrique have a remarkable sense of drama, with mostly sharp attacks and a few surprises, like the sympathetic, undulating accompaniment to the insistent "Scheza infida". DiDonato is a remarkable singer and this is a terrific CD.