Luca Giardini / La Lira di Orfeo / Raffaele Pe

Giulio Caesare, a Baroque hero

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The concept of this album by Italian countertenor Raffaele Pe is unusual, almost novel: he assembles a collection of operatic arias depicting a single figure, Giulio Cesare, or Julius Caesar. Other singers have devoted programs to arias of various types, but audiences of the 18th century knew their classical stories well, and quite a variety of these furnished material for opera. To pull this one off, in fact, Pe and the historical-instrument group La Lira di Orfeo under Luca Giardini have to include some rarer material. Handel is liberally represented, but he is joined by Italian followers who aren't often heard but who turn out to be well worth hearing: Francesco Bianchi, Geminiano Giacomelli, Niccolò Piccinni, and Carlo Francesco Pollarolo. All these composers had Handel's Giulio Cesare as a model, and they had to find new aspects to his character and his story. This fits Pe's considerable talents; he has not only pure power in the midrange, but also an affecting tragic sense. For the latter, sample "Rasserena i mesti rai" from Bianchi's La morte di Cesare, which shows that the straight opera seria tradition was still going strong as late as 1787. Pe's Handel readings are all melodically fetching, and really, he manages to inhabit a group of mostly unfamliar arias. Glossa's highly appropriate sound from a theater in Lodi is another strong point in a wonderful countertenor release.

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