Caldara Bass Arias Pan PC10447

Antonio Caldara (1670/1–1736)
Arias for Bass
Alexandre Baldo (bass-baritone)
Ensemble Mozaïque
rec. 2022, Sommerrefektorium, Stift St. Florian (Austria)
Sung texts with English translations enclosed
Reviewed as download from press preview
Pan Classics PC10447 [59]

Caldara was born in Venice and was a chorister at St Mark’s where he learned several instruments. He led a mobile life, having posts in Mantua, Barcelona and Rome before in 1716 he settled in Vienna, where he was appointed Vice-Kapellmeister to the Imperial Court. He remained there until his death. He composed more than seventy operas and thirty oratorios, and other works, too. In Vienna, he collaborated with Metastasio, who was court poet there from 1729.  

The idea for the present disc originated in the autumn of 2020, when young bass singer Alexandre Baldo was sitting at the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek in Vienna, browsing through some forgotten music and came across some manuscripts by Caldara, written during his twenty-year sojourn in Vienna. Baldo writes:

“Focusing mainly on music written for bass roles, one particular detail caught my eye: the extraordinary virtuosity and expressivity of the vocal line, thus prompting the question of who could have premiered these roles. The answer to this question was found directly on the list of the singers casted to premiere these works, one name persistently recurring: Christoph Praun. He was a bass singer, member of the Viennese Hofkapelle between 1715-1764, and was surely one of the most sought-after singers of his time, considering his appearance in many works of composers such as J. J. Fux, A. Caldara, A. Bononcini, F. Conti, F. Durante and many others present at the court within those years. Realising the suitability of my voice to the vocality of Christoph Praun, I pursued the investigation further and discovered that none of these bass arias had ever been recorded. Thus I decided to undertake the modern edition of these forgotten treasures.”

Listening to these recordings one is struck by two things: the extraordinary vocal range from high baritone to deep bass, and the need to master florid singing.  In almost every aria there are coloratura passages of the utmost virtuosity. 

The very first aria, Sù cedete al dio dell’armi from La contesa de’ numi (1723) is as good as any to exemplify what to expect from the disc. It is a lively aria and the Ensemble Mozaïque – consisting of a string quartet, harpsichord and theorbo/baroque guitar – plays with vitality and springiness. Baldo sports a fresh and youthful voice, baritonal at the top, blackish at the bottom, with fluent coloratura – and a trill. In the recitative Così dunque tradisci from Il Temistocle (1736)(track 2) he is strong and expressive, and the aria that follows is sung with warm tone, good legato and with fine care for nuances. The opera was one of Caldara’s last. It premiered on 4 November 1736 at the Hoftheater in Vienna, and Caldara died less than two months later. The libretto is by Metastasio and it turned out to be  one of his most popular. After Caldara, at least twenty-five others set it to music, including, Porpora, Jommelli (twice), Johann Christian Bach, Philidor (in French translation) and Pacini, who set it as late as 1823. The aria is certainly one of the best in this programme. It is also the only libretto by Metastasio represented on this disc. Most frequently represented is Apostolo Zeno, Metastasio’s predecessor as court poet. Five of his operas are featured here, of which the aria Vedea modesto molto from Mitridate is a highlight. It is slow and charged with emotion, and Baldo sings it with warmth, but the finest music of all is found in Gesù presentato nel tempio, also with a libretto by Zeno, which was premiered during Holy Week of 1735. Joseph’s aria Quando il tenero tuo labbro is so sublime, so touching. Otherwise, I have a feeling that Caldara often resorted to stock phrases, like exaggerated coloratura excursions. It is a fact that he was overburdened with commissions and probably died from exhaustion. In such a situation, it is understandable that he sometimes plugged into auto-pilot. 

Anyway, it is good to have almost a dozen never before recorded arias from Caldara in excellent readings, and for good measure we also get two instrumental pieces.

Göran Forsling

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1 Aria “Sù cedete al dio dell’armi” (Marte)
 La contesa de’ numi (1723) 
2 Recitativo “Così dunque tradisci”
3 Aria “Aspri rimorsi atroci” (Sebaste)
 Il Temistocle (1736) 
4 Aria “Tronchi, sì, la falce irata” (Sesto Furio)
 Cajo Marzio Coriolano (1717) 
5 Aria “Vedea modesto volto” (Ostane)
 Mitridate (1728) 
6 Aria “Minaccerà le sponde” (Trebellio)
 Scipione nelle Spagne (1722)
7 Introduzione Ifigenia in Aulide (1718)
8 Aria “Quanto ria tal pena sia” (Annone)
 Scipione Africano il maggiore (1735)
9 Aria “Più di belva” (Illel)
 Il Batista (1727)
10 Sinfonia Santa Ferma (1717)
11 Recitativo “Sapienza increata”
12 Aria “Quando il tenero tuo labbro” (Giuseppe)
 Gesù presentato nel tempio (1735)
13 Aria “Furie implacabili” (Imofi)
 Nitocri (1722)