Colori d’Amori; 13 Arias from operas by Antonio Maria Bononcini, Giovanni Bononcini, Riccardo Broschi, Antonio Caldara,  and Allesandro Scarlatti, + a ballet by Nicola Matteis (the younger); Simone Kermes, soprano, Le Musiche Nove, Claudio Osele, conductor; SONY Classical 88697789202, © 2010, TT 73:52, $11.98.

Only one of the 13 arias, “Cara tomba” from Scarlatti’s Mitridate Eupatore (Tr. 4), has been recorded before; the Matteis balletto is also a première recording.  Although all the composers are Italian, most worked in Vienna at one point or another (Much of Italy was dominated by the Hapsburgs at that time.).  Some of the works represented here, composed between 1694 and 1737, premièred in Vienna, some in Spain, and one in Moravia.  All these composers were famous in their day, but few have heard of most of them today.  Broschi was the brother of Farinelli [Carlo Broschi], for whom Scarlatti wrote “Torbido irato e nero” in Erminia, included here (Tr. 10), and considered one of the most virtuosic coloratura arias ever written.  2010 was the 350th anniversary of the birth of Scarlatti, so he enjoys the privilege of having the greatest number, five, of arias by a single composer included in the program.  The predecessor of Handel’s “Ombra mai fu” by Giovanni Bononcini (in his Xerse, Tr. 2), dating from some 40 years earlier, is also included.  Handel was known for recycling his own material; he clearly also recycled that of others without too much alteration – or pangs of conscience.

These are all arias on the subject of one form or another of love, including maternal and unrequited.  The operas are often based on Greek myths (Jason and the Argonauts), medieval legends (Patient Griselda, Gerusalemme liberata), or historical events (Roman battles, the birth of the emperor Leopold, an aristocratic wedding) as was typical in the Baroque era.  Many were written for castrati, but several were originally for female sopranos.

The disk’s subtitle days it all: “Forgotten Baroque masterpieces of touching beauty, revealing the whole range of extreme sentiments that love is about.  Rediscovered arias full of depth, passion, tenderness and dazzling virtuosity – brought back to life by one of today’s leading sopranos.”  Marketing language, to be sure, but in this case right on the mark!  The music is stunning and so are the performances.  Although all are brilliant, sometimes ‘over the top’ coloratura pieces, there is a considerable variety in the emotion that forms their base, from joy or triumph to disappointment or sorrow and an equivalent variety in melodic form and style from upbeat march to funeral dirge with some cheerful songs, plaintive laments, and contemplative/meditative airs in between.  The instrumentalists are superb; trumpet work by Andreas Lachner is particularly fine.  Kermes seems to have been born to sing these works; she ‘nails,’ as they say, every one of them.  One’s jaw veritably drops in awe at the display!  One can readily conjure up an image of a live audience held breathless or gasping for breath and erupting with wild applause, so unusual are these sorts of works on today’s stages and so impressive are these renditions.

The accompanying booklet is impressive for its scholarship. The track listings also include the year, location, and where known the soloist, of the première performance of the opera. The notes, in German and English translations from the Italian original by the conductor and founder in 2001 of the historically-informed-performance ensemble which, its seemingly contradictory name notwithstanding, focuses on research into and editions of 17th and 18th century scores, with emphasis on vocal works, are succinct and informative. The name is actually the inversion of the first collection of monody published in 1602 by Giulio Caccini.  Original Italian texts, with their authors credited, when known, and English translations are given for all the arias.  Credits, including the manuscript sources and their locations, are on the inside of the back cover. Total playing time is not printed anywhere, however.

Kermes is a leading soprano in her native Germany and in Europe in general, but is relatively unknown here.  The same is true for the ensemble and its conductor.  This is a fine introduction to their abilities.  Perhaps the low price will encourage American early music lovers and opera lovers in general to make their acquaintance?  This is most certainly not your father’s or mother’s collection of opera arias.  A most welcome change of pace in this overcrowded stage!