Lorraine Hunt Lieberson

George Frideric Handel: Arias for Durastanti

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Italian mezzo-soprano Margherita Durastanti was associated with the work of Handel over much of her career in the first decades of the eighteenth century, and he wrote some of his juiciest operatic roles for her, including both men's and women's parts. Lorraine Hunt Lieberson here sings arias from six of the operas Handel wrote for Durastanti, some of which also included roles for the celebrated castrato Senesino and soprano Francesco Cuzzoni, other favorites of the composer's. The album includes all five arias from Giulio Cesare for Sesto, a trousers role Hunt Lieberson sang on-stage in a notorious production by Peter Sellars in which she appeared as a modern-day terrorist carrying an uzi. These performances, recorded in 1991, capture Hunt Lieberson relatively early in her career, but the elements that made her singing so extraordinary are all in place: her focused, rounded tone, immaculate intonation and technique, and above all, her piercing emotional intensity and honesty. The variety of arias collected here, from Sesto's fury to Radamisto's lament to Agrippina's scheming, are testimony to the musical and emotional range in which Hunt Lieberson could shine. There are too many stellar moments to enumerate, but several stand out. The way her tone emerges from under the oboe in "Pensieri, voi mi tormentate," from Agrippina is magical, and Radamisto's "Qual nave" is a marvel of sustained legato virtuosity. Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, conducted by Nicholas McGegan, plays with suave understatement and elegance. The quality of Harmonia Mundi's sound is discreet, but transparent and warm.