Sunday, November 28, 2010

Showing Off in Baroque

If you know the great counter-tenor story of Carlo Maria Broschi through the film Farinelli, you know it’s about the castrato, Carlo, and his ambitious composer brother, Riccardo. Although the story takes great liberties with history, it is probably true that Riccardo dreamed of being up there with the baroque rivals of his age, Handel and Porpora, but didn’t seem to have what it takes. In the film, Riccardo uses his brother Carlo, both for his ability to attract women (whom Riccardo then finishes off) and to showcase his music. He claims he writes only to further Carlo’s career, but Carlo is a good enough musician – he’s a harpsichordist as well as singer – to tell the difference between real creativity and compositions consisting largely of trills and ornaments to pander to the crowd.

Anyway, one of the great show-off pieces for the voice from Farinelli is Riccardo Broschi’s “Son qual nave.”

Here’s soprano Simone Kermes doing it at the Schwetzinger Festspiele 2010 with the Venice Baroque Orchestra. If this lady ever gets tired of singing, she’ll be a great bronco rider. She’s already got the dress for it.

And here is the Farinelli version, supposedly in counter-tenor, but actually, it’s the voice of coloratura soprano Ewa Malas-Godlewska, digitally blended with counter-tenor Derek Lee Ragin’s voice. No matter. It’s one hell of a presentation.

And did I say show-off? You want to see show-off? Take a look at Cecilia Bartoli having at this piece:

And for those of you who like going off on a tangent, here’s a little video about Malas-Godlewska, sopranistka, and the American Derek Lee Ragin, in the studio having their voices massaged for the film. It’s in Polish, unfortunately, but don’t let that stop you.

And for a tangent on a tangent – here’s Handel’s famous “Lascia qu’io pianga” (Let me weep), the only piece in the film that is exclusively Malas-Godlewska’s voice:

But back to “Son Qual Nave”

Here are the words:
Son qual nave ch’agitata
da più scogli in mezzo all’onde
si confonde e spaventata
va solcando in alto mar.
Ma in veder l’amato lido
lascia l’onde e il vento infido
e va in porto a riposar.
My Italian is limited at best, but no matter. With a little help from Google Translate, I think this means something like:

I am a restless boat.
Those rocks in the middle of the waves
Confuse and frighten me.
I plough through the high seas.
But when I see my beloved beach
I leave the treacherous wind and waves
And go into port
And rest.
I leave it to you to make the connection between this poetry and bronco busting.

Or did I get that wrong and Simone Kermes is simply singing the title song from “Oklahoma” and her voice is being dubbed by some Polish lady?


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