The Annual Mezzo Season Shopping Guide

The traditional guide is coming late this year – Hanukkah is already in full swing and we only have 5 days left until Christmas – but we could always pretend we’re Spanish and celebrate with gifts at Reyes (Jan 6th). Then again, is there any reason not to spread some White Shirt Joy all year long?

So, what do we get for…

…the seasoned White Shirt?

Anne Sofie von Otter taking a second crack at recording Berlioz’ “Nuits d’été”. Because it’s with marc Minkowski this time and because “Le spectre de la rose” never gets old (although the cover art was better last time around). Ce léger parfum est mon âme!

Daniela Barcellona singing Scarlatti opera arias. Because Scarlatti is getting to little Baroque revival love still, and because we can’t believe that it took a decade after Barcellona swaggered into our hearts as Tancredi to give her the chance to record her first solo album.

A gift certificate for Vesselina Kasarova’s book, “Ich singe mit Leib und Seele” (check the preview on page 10 here – thanks to Smorgy for the link. So far, German only.) – just like we listen, I say. Just like we listen.

On the retro side: This year, we lost Sena Jurinac, the leading Octavian of the post WWII years and later on, a moving Marschallin. Remember her art with this selection from her recordings.


…those who prefer things a little bit deeper?

Vivaldi’s Teuzzone from the Naive Vivaldi edition. Because we do already own all the other Vivaldi recordings from that line, because Jordi Savall conducts and, most of all, because it has French contralto Delphine Galou.

Marijana Mijanovic’s Handel album, “Affetti Barocchi”, just to remind ourselves how much we miss her. If we already have that one, have your pick from Handel’s Orlando (DVD), Monteverdi’s Penelope (DVD), Handel’s Floridante and Handel’s Giulio Cesare.

Marie-Nicole Lemieux’s French repertory solo album, “Ne me refuse pas” (also a nice gift for a secret crush, see below). Because really, who could say no to that sound?!


…those who prefer sopranos?

Oh, Spanish sopranos! No, this time I don’t mean Nuria Rial, I mean Raquel Andueza and her Baroque release “D’amore e tormenti”, which  could be a line out right out of the Furioso, which is just another reason to own this, next to its highlighting a lot of fairly off-mainstream early Baroque repertory (Cazzati, Merula and Strozzi among others)

Spanish sopranos, II: Actually, I do mean Nurai Rial – this time, Nuria Rial rediscovering Telemann. Way too much filtering on the cover, but never has Telemann sounded less stiff and more charming than here (some overtures are part of the recording, so don’t get it if you want all soprano, all of the time).

And Spanish sopranos, III: in honor of recently deceased Very Early Music soprano champion Montserrat Figueras, how about remembering her by one of her recordings this season, like “Lux Feminae” or the lullaby collection “Ninna nanna”?


[ah, don’t you just LOVE this still?]

…the fledgling opera dyke?

Our recommendations from previous years still stand:

A good “Clemenza di Tito” (and by “good” I mean “forsaking all others”), a good “Rosenkavalier” and a good white shirt, with cufflinks.

A good “Le nozze di Figaro”.

The 1995 Wernicke production of Cavalli’s “La Calisto” (we still accept no liability claims if you fall in love with Maria Bayo while watching). This take on Handel’s “Giulio Cesare”.

Also, three Kasarova classics: Bellini’s “I Capuleti e I Montecchi” and “Tancredi” and Gluck’s “Orphée”.


…our inner gay man?

Top of my list this year: Vivaldi’s Farnace with amx Emanuel Cencic in the title role. Also aboard: Ruxandra Donose, Ann Hallenberg, Karina Gauvin and Mary-Ellen Nesi. Oh, and Daniel Behle. I don’t even know whom to squeal over first!

And apropos Daniel Behle: After last year’s “Schöne Müllerin”, he has a new Lied recording out, this time with Schumann’s “Dichterliebe”. I haven’t heard it yet, but I can’t wait!

Jaroussky, Nuria Rial and L’Arpeggiata with “Teatro d’amore”. It’s got Jaroussky and a girl soprano to root for and it matches most any nightcap and breakfast dish I could think of.


…our secret crush?

If she likes contraltos, let the title of Marie-Nicole Lemieux’s  “Ne me refuse pas” speak for you. It’s got “Mon coeur s’ouvre a ta voix”, too, so if that doesn’t do the trick, maybe she’s straight.

If she speaks Italian and likes sopranos (so you can keep the mezzos to yourself), try Nuria Rial’s Haydn recital “Arie per un amante”. “Lovely” doesn’t even begin to cover it.

If there is need for extreme subtlety, I will continue to champion Anne Sofie von Otter’s lush Zemlinksy orchestral songs recording. If “Sie kam zum Schloss gegangen” isn’t one of the most lesbian songs ever recorded, I’ll eat my favorite pair of cufflinks. Some people may think it’s about a female symbolist incarnation of death coming for the queen. I say it’s the queen running off with her girlfriend. Also, Mahler’s “Songs of a Wayfarer” – particularly #4 – have aided the gaining of more than one toaster oven across the planet. If she still refuses you, settle with #3. At least you’ll have some mezzo understanding!

If you can afford to be a little less subtle, go for the dressing room and cleavage cover and suggestive title of the Karina Gauvin and Marie-Nicole Lemieux Handel duet extravaganza, “Streams of Pleasure”. May you experience them with this gift!


…people who want some attitude with their tunes?

The Jaroussky/Cencic chamber cantantas album, of course! It’s like the Callas and the Tebaldi of Male Soprano Heaven going highbrow Early Music and recording a duet album together.

The latest entry in Véronique Gens’ «Tragédiennes» trilogy (entries #1 and #2 also warmly recommended!), covering mostly unknown 18th and 19th century repertory (you can get a taste of if by the Simonnet-directed concert movie over at ArteLiveWeb). It’s like opera’s Andie MacDowell going Indiana Jones on (re)discovering arias. My favorite discovery: the admittedly very popular “Tu che la vanità” from Verdi’s Don Carlo (French version. Of course), reread and sung on a much more delicate scale than usual, with a  focus on line and lyricism. Recommended after overdosing on huge wobbly Verdi sopranos!

Trying to outdiva the diva of all divas? There’s always Angela Gheorghiu’s “Homage to Maria Callas” to consider and if you like some decent meaty Verdi (unless that is an oxymoron) and a direct comparison to some of the big Calles favorites, give this one a try. Like it or not, you can’t deny the verve and energy (and guts!) that went into this.


…those who still need to jump upon the good ship Classical Music?

You can’t go wrong with Stephen Fry’s hilarious (and, naturally, whip-smart) “Utter and Incomplete History of Classical Music”, although I’d say it’s just as enjoyable if you are a classical music buff already.

If you are trying to lure someone into Early Music, L’Arpeggiata should do the trick just fine. Swing and Jazz were definitely around in the renaissance already! L’Arpeggiata’s latest album, “Los pajaros perdidos”, is slated for a January release – it’s Latin-based, and by Latin, I do mean South America and Spain this time, from y Soler to Piazzolla. And it’s got Jaroussky to boot!

Bedazzle someone with Simone Kermes’ “Viva!” Vivaldi album. It’s a bit of a cheat, since it’s a “best of” of her prized “Amor sacro” and “Amor profano” Vivaldi recordings, but it’s got nicer cover art and if you’re trying to lure someone over, this might work better than “Look! I got your sacral Vivaldi cantatas!”. If you loathe “Best of” albums, get both “Amor sacro” and “Amor profano” separately, they’re definitely worth their money.

~~ Happy season and hapy listening! ~~

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