Arias by Gluck: Sonia Prina

Sonia Prina

(with La Barocca, directed by Ruben Jais, Wigmore Hall, 28 June 2016)

Sonia Prina is one of the most colourful personalities in the world of Baroque music (which is saying something), and although I’d seen her on DVD as the warrior queen Partenope and the scheming vizier Artabano, I hadn’t heard her in the flesh until Tuesday at the Wigmore. Here she treated us to a programme of sparkling, mostly pre-reform Gluck. Performed with panache and a glorious disdain for convention, it was quite an experience.

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Artaserse (1730): Johann Adolf Hasse

Hasse Artaserse


(Festival Valle d’Itria, Martina Franca, 2011)

In late February 1730, Hasse’s Artaserse opened at the Teatro S. Giovanni Grisostomo in Venice, mere weeks after Leonardo Vinci’s version premiered in Rome. (I think you all know the story of this opera by now. However, if you’d like to refresh your memory, check here and possibly also take a look here.) Musically there’s quite a contrast between the two versions. Vinci’s simple lyricism gives way to Hasse’s ornamentation, bells and whistles. And it’s not just the music that’s different.

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Partenope (1725): Leonardo Vinci

Vinci: Partenope


(I Turchini with Antonio Florio; recorded at Murcia in 2011)

Partenope (Sonia Prina) is queen and founder of Naples: powerful, majestic… and single. Rather like Elizabeth I of England, she has attracted a swarm of hopeful suitors. For the time being she plays one off against the other while weighing up their comparative merits. There’s Armindo (Stefano Ferrari), prince of Rhodes, who has brought a host of warriors to fight under Partenope’s banner and who languishes in the hope that one day she’ll deign to return his love. But Partenope has a soft spot for his rival, the dashing Arsace of Corinth (Maria Ercolano). As the opera opens, a third suitor arrives: Emilio of Capua (Eufemia Tufano), who crosses Partenope’s borders with his Cumaean army. He helpfully tells her that she has a choice: marry him or fight. Showing satisfying gumption, Partenope disdainfully sends him away and readies her troops for battle.

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