Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Album Review: "Prologue" by Francesca Aspromonte and Il Pomo d'Oro | An Album a Day Keeps the Doctor Away

Image result for aspromonte prologue

WHO: Francesca Aspromonte, soprano; Il Pomo d'Oro; Enrico Onofri, director
WHAT: Prologues to operas by Monteverdi, Caccini, Cavalli, Landi, Rossi, Cesti, Stradella, and A. Scarlatti
RELEASED: May 2018
LABEL: Pentatone

Guys, I'm really fucking bored. My brain is kinda turning to mush. I've turned to practicing cello to give myself something to do. Do you know how much I hate practicing? A lot. I hate practicing a lot.

Anyway, one thing I think we could all use during this weird, crazy time is music to listen to -- according to an email that one of my professors sent a couple hours ago, "music can be at its most powerful in times of crisis and uncertainty." Musicians always know how to cheer up a crowd, huh?

So I'm going to try to review an album every day that I'm stuck inside. No particular theme, just what I happen to be listening to at the moment. They're not going to be long, but hopefully they'll keep me busy and give you some new music to try out.

One thing that you should know about me is that I organize all the music I have yet to listen to into 60 or so playlists according to instrumentation and time period. "Romantic Keyboard"; "20th-Century Choral"; you get the idea. My "Baroque Solo Vocal" list is on the long side -- up around 170 hours (but I'm also terrible about clearing out what I've already listened to).

Today, I wanted Italian baroque opera, probably because I'm mourning the cancellation of Yale's annual baroque opera project (Cavalli's Doriclea, for anyone who cares -- good luck finding a recording). Luckily, this was near the top of my list.

Though prologues have fallen out of fashion in opera today, they were among the most important parts of early operatic structure. An allegorical character -- usually just named "Prologue" -- would come onstage and address the audience directly, breaking the fourth wall and foreshadowing the overarching themes of the plot to come. Usually, this takes the form of a recitative (imagine you're speaking, but while singing one note over and over again) with instrumental interludes (usually ornamented versions of a single theme).

Owning a recitative is hard. I've tried (and failed) myself -- it takes a lot of energy to make a repeated note interesting. You wouldn't know that from Francesca Aspromonte's performance. Recitative is clearly second-nature to her; her text stresses land with gravity, but don't halt forward momentum. Her voice is clear and sweet, blooming beautifully in the brief arias where she has less text to worry about.

Il Pomo d'Oro somehow put out six albums in 2018 alone, and all of the ones I've listened to are fantastic. This pared-down ensemble of a couple violins and a continuo section hits the mark; the violinists clearly play together rather than following one another, and the harpsichordist's improvisations combine pinpoint precision with wild, unhinged improvisation.

Great album, would recommend.

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