I blame it on Beaune.
Since last summer, I seem to be unable to get the sound of Romina Basso out of my head. Time for another Mezzo Watch, although the category “mezzo” may fall somewhat short of Basso’s sound: Oftentimes, she sounds like a contralto.
That corresponds with her singing Disinganno in Beaune last year – an alto part that e.g. Mijanovic took in Zurich – and with her originally slanted run as Bradamante (Handel) in Vienna last autumn, a role also originally conceived for a contralto.
To hear Basso’s take on the Handel Bradamante has since made it onto my list of “must future hearing”. The next thing she’ll be tackling, however, is another figure from the Orlando furioso cosmos, Medoro – the G.I. Joe who gets the girl, despite many blue-blooded contenders with battle scars and titles. Well, if Medoro (another contralto part) is sung with *that* timbre, it’s no stretch that Angelica chooses him – aural proof in Paris in March.
Pierre Audi is staging Vivaldi’s “Orlando furioso” (the opera written for 5 contraltos, both male and female, a soprano and a bass. How close is this to perfect?) for the Théâtre Champs-Elysées, with, among others, Lemieux, Jaroussky, Prina, Larmore, Hammarström. And with Romina Basso as Medoro – which means that she will have to show off her White Shirt credentials (the closest we get so far is this interview about an appearance as Teseo in Vivaldi’s “Ercole sul Termodonte).
While Romina Basso has a fair presence on Youtube, mostly with opera recordings and concert excerpts, I’ve yet to find anything that places her onstage in an opera role. But much of Audi’s work gets a DVD release and since the only Vivaldi “Orlando” available is the San Francisco one with Marilyn Horne, it would be great to have a second interpretation available. I already know which Medoro I would prefer.
[clip with thanks to jovi1715]
Despite few opera appearances – not counting those of the concert variety – Basso excels in painting characters, even if it’s within concert performances (see the excerpts from Vivaldi’s “Juditha triumpahns” below – which is a religious oratorio. In Latin. And yet after hearing Basso sing it, you want to invite it to dinner in a jazz-for-lovers kind of way). Which brings me back to that contralto timbre (I’m not sure I’ll ever honestly call her a mezzo) and to last year’s Disinganno in Beaune, which was anything but a disenchantment. If even my gay baby brother comes home with a contralto crush, something fabulous must have happened.
In writing this article, I listened to Basso’s entire YouTube repertory several times (yes, dire work…) and while I recognize that her top register sounds light and mezzo-ish, if less polished than her middle and lower register, it’s not what gives her voice its characteristic tint. It’s that slightly smoky contralto timbre that – much like the darker, tarter sound of Mijanovic or the less smoky Mingardo – doesn’t come from size (think the booming sound of Podlés or Horne) and isn’t produced by volume or power, but by color. Basso’s voice isn’t heavy, but it has colors that many heavier voices would probably love to have.
It may be because she’s an Early Music singer through and through (look at her recordings and it’s 45% Handel, 45% Vivaldi and 10% contemporaries of the first two (Porpora and Galuppi, for starters) – but despite its dark color, Basso’s tone is unforced and well-centered, with the sound not being unduly palatal. Two more things that definitely stand out are agility regarding passaggi – I’d be challenged to name smoother, smokier runs at the moment – and her range of expressive dynamic, like in this excerpt from “Juditha triumphans”:
If Romina Basso sounds fierce, it’s due to active expressiveness more than due to vocal crunch. She’s definitely more smoky than crunchy in sound. To which I can only say that granola is overrated, and please pass me the single malt.
Next chances to catch Basso in performance – most of it, again, concert repertory except for the Paris luxury run of “Orlando furioso” mentioned above – start right next week: She’s starring in a one-time concert performance of Handel’s “Berenice” at Theater an der Wien next week, January 27th (she also recorded the work under Curtis). Further 2011 appearances include Pergolesi’s “Stabat Mater” (the Flower Duet of oratorio, with the added bonus that it lasts an hour) with the Venice Baroque Orchestra on May 4th, also at Théâtre Champs-Elysées. Here’s hoping we’ll get a Styx review afterwards! For those a bit further up North, there’s a Vivaldi concert at Amsterdam Concertgebouw on May 30th, again with Andrea Marcon and the Venice Baroque Orchestra.
Really, with Romina Basso’s repertory and the places where she’s been singing – Viae Stellae: check, Utrecht Oude Muziek: check, Barbican: check, Beaune: check, our livingroom thanks to Arte: check – it’s surprising that she hasn’t been on my favorites list much sooner.
Apropos Beaune: Word is still out whether Basso might make another stop there this summer (in which case gay baby brother and I plan a little pilgrimage). I’ll put out Mezzo Alerts (or should that be Contralto Alerts?) in case more concerts surface. Feel free to add further dates in the comments.
As for recordings, I’d recommend starting with the “Giulio Cesare” under Petrou. Yes, I know I usually crush out on the Cesares (Mijanovic or Connolly, anyone?), but in this case, I’m on team Tolomeo. What was that about the bad guys (and I don’t mean sparkling vampires by that) being much more alluring than the good guys? Basso’s Tolomeo is a worthy opponent to Cesare, and it doesn’t hurt that she sounds sexy as hell at it.
[clip with thanks to jovi1715]
I’m also a happy owner of the Vivaldi “Motezuma” and “Atenaide“, and if Santa Claus gets the address labels right next time, I hope to add the “Ercole sul Termodonte” to that, soon. Also, paging Andrea Marcon: I wouldn’t mind to add another Pergolesi “Stabat Mater” to my shelves. And who knows what will happen to Audi’s take on “Orlando furioso”?
And apropos “Orlando furioso” – let me come back to that Medoro once more. – Springtime in Paris, anyone?
[clip with thanks to jovi1715]