I wanted to do some normal stuff tonight, really, like watching a few episodes of “Castle,” maybe, or indulge in NSFW-material – but no, I got stuck on music. Händel’s “Pena tiranna,” most specifically.
I fell in love with that aria long ago; my first recording of it was James Bowman’s version with the King’s Consort. I couldn’t find it on youtube, but here is an excerpt. I loved it despite Bowman sounding a little as if he had a stuffed nose in it – something that even adds poignance of sorts.
Recently, I discovered this recording:
Philippe Jaroussky, Jean-Christophe Spinosi
Recently, quite, yes, even if it was uploaded some years ago. I haven’t even nearly heard every recording yet that Philippe Jaroussky has ever made – I blame it on my strange listening habits. I’m fine with my lack of knowledge there, however; I will have time to catch up during the break that PJ has announced he is going to take.
What surprised me was that most conductors make the contrast more striking than Spinosi does between the motive of the strings and the legato of the fagotto. Mostly the strings-motive has the cruelty of someone being slapped across the face by cruel fate. Spinosi doesn’t do it like others do, most likely taking into account that this would demand something just as dramatic from the singer – something which PJ’s voice just does not have to this extent.
Another example: Here is Nathalie Stutzmann. (I suggest to close your eyes when you first hear it though, to get an unbiased opinion, because her conducting at the same time is somewhat irritating – it reminds me of José Cura.)
Despite her wonderful voice, I find it hard to get warm with the recording. The circumstance that she conducts herself gives the cruel – and a little heartlessly played – start and end of the A-part an almost comical edge, as if she would encourage someone to maltreat her; the music is one of the greatest descriptions of suffering that Handel ever wrote, in my humble opinion.
Spinosi’s conducting and approach to the aria brings out much more than any recording I ever heard – things I never realized in this piece before. Because he is a genius, according to my humble estimate, and because he seems to be a great guy, how he is conducting is very much related to the singer he is working with. His string motive is acute, but never overlaying the fagotto and breaking its line. So, basically, this version has already won before Jaroussky gets to sing the first note.
However beautiful the A-part, and the B-part are executed – who can listen to “in tanti guai pace non ha” from Jaroussky and not cry has no heart – at the repetition of the A-part I am done for. At first listening, the graces and embellishments he adds are not so special, but they are highly individual at the same time. No one else would do them this way; even in print I would notice Jaroussky in it, I think. But it’s the little things that freak me out. The diminuendo he does on of the “pietà”s (at 4:35 roundish), for instance.
A blogger noticed that PJ “phrases the dickens out of everything.” I couldn’t have put it any better. For me, the version wins the competition. If you have any favourite or interesting version of that aria, I’d be delighted to hear!
Sidenote: Dardano DIES in the process of the opera. I can’t … it is just. not. right.
Georg Friedrich Händel, Amadigi di Gaula
Io sento al core,
Né spero mai
E il mio dolore
In tanti guai
Pace non ha.
Pena tiranna, etc.