Porpora has his day
Il Complesso Barocco
To many modern listeners the Neapolitan composer Nicola Porpora is mostly remembered for being one of Handel’s rivals for supremacy on the London stage. Anti-Handel factions formed The Opera of the Nobility, a company whose purpose was to bring down the Royal Academy of Music (Handel’s company) and Porpora was their chief composer. Despite the fact that Porpora wrote five operas, an oratorio and other works, the company failed and Porpora left London.
The London affair is only part of Porpora’s story because he was a major talent and a widely respected composer of his day. He wrote over 50 operas, taught the singers Farinelli and Cafarelli as well as the composer Hasse. He was Kapellmeister at the Dresden court and while at Dresden took on a young man named Franz Joseph Haydn as his valet, pupil and accompanist.
While there have not been many complete recordings of Porpora’s operas—even the seminal Neapolitan Baroque series on Naïve hasn’t touched him—this disc by Canadian soprano Karina Gauvin with Alan Curtis leading Il Complesso Barocco fills a huge gap. I think Gauvin is one of the most exciting singers on the scene and while she is quite familiar to fans of early music (check out her Handel and French Baroque recital albums on ATMA Classique); this recording should have enough appeal to put her on the radar of anyone who enjoys glorious singing.
Glorious it is. Porpora’s music is rich with twisting vocal lines, highly dramatic recitatives and melody aplenty, it is very Baroque indeed. I can find no fault with anything Gauvin sings here. She is blessed with a bountiful voice that lacks nothing in warmth or clarity and she handles the treacherous fioritura with ease. When needed she can summon plenty of brightness too, but it’s not an Emma Kirkby-styled English soprano glow, think of something more Mediterranean. Curtis and company are superb accompanists and even get to take a solo turn in the Overture to Porpora’s Arianna. This is fattening music so I would suggest enjoying it in small sips, perhaps a few arias at a time, and you will be well pleased. I was.
Check in for my post about Shannon Mercer and Suzie LeBlanc, two more Canadian singers who have won my heart.
Here’s a look at the Porpora recording sessions.