CD Review: Kate Lindsey’s ‘Arianna’

Lindsey Connects at a Deep Level With the Cretan Princess

By Alan Neilson
(Photo:Richard Boll)

The Greek myth of Arianna (Ariadne in English) is a story rich in strong and contrasting emotions, for she is a woman who experiences love in extremis, and pays the price of loving the wrong man, Theseus, with whom she flees her home and betrays her family, only to be abandoned by him on the island of Naxos. Eventually, following the pain of rejection, regret and lost-love she is rescued by the god Bacchus, and together they take their place in the starry heavens.

The dramatic potential of the story has not been lost on composers, and many have been attracted to write musical works based on Arianna’s trials and tribulations. Likewise, she has proved to be an ideal vehicle for any singer wishing to display their interpretive depth and versatility.

The American mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey now adds her name to the list of interpreters with her latest album entitled “Arianna,” supported by the Arcangelo ensemble under the direction of Jonathan Cohen. Although primarily known for her success performing roles from Mozart and the Romantic repertoire, Lindsey has recently been shifting her focus to the baroque period, winning widespread acclaim for her performances as Nerone in “Agrippina” at the New York Met and Ariodante in variety of venues in France and Spain.

The album, therefore, marks a further step in this direction, for she has decided to explore the character of Arianna, through three cantatas, written by the 18th century composers, Scarlatti, Handel and Haydn.

The World of Arianna

The three composers produced very different readings of the story, in which Scarlatti’s “L’Arianna (Ebra d’amor fuggia)” (H.242) is the most complete.

Written in 1707 for the Arcadian Academy in Rome, it is set in ten parts, comprising a short instrumental introduction, four arias, separated by recitatives and ending with a recitative-arioso. The text shifts between a storytelling narrator and the first person voice of Arianna, who gives expression to her thoughts and feelings.

Musico-dramatically, it is the most satisfying of the three cantatas, having a strong forward momentum, whilst maintaining space for Arianna’s violently shifting emotions, which allows Lindsey to display her vocal qualities and formidable interpretative ability.

Each of the four arias focuses on an emotional state. In the first, “Pur ti stringo o mio diletto,” Arianna waxes lyrical on the love she has found with Theseus, which Lindsey renders with a fresh, carefree confidence and decorates with subtle ornamentations, a joy reflected in the violins which celebrate her happiness in rhythmic unison.

Whilst the second aria, “Stringa si dolce nodo ardente amore,” continues with her dreamy, blissful reflections, the third aria, “Ingoiatelo” shifts gear, creating a powerful portrait of Arianna’s rage at Theseus’ betrayal. Lindsey holds nothing back, her fury palpable as she demands the violent seas devour him, the emotions rage in her voice, and her short coloratura explodes in anger. The final aria, “Struggiti, o core, in pianto” is a painful reflection on her grief, in which Lindsey’s expressive phrasing, ever so subtly coloured, wonderfully captures Arianna’s deep sadness.

The recitative passages are delivered with equal surety, with the appropriate weight given to every word, every phrase so that the full dramatic quality of the text is brought alive. Moreover, Lindsey was also able to maintain a clear distinction between the character of Arianna and the Narrator, yet without compromising the emotional involvement of the latter.

Lasting barely a minute, the final part is a short recitative which slides into an arioso, as the Narrator recounts how Arianna alone with her grief is transported to the heavens by Bacchus. Lindsey’s angelic voice climbs gently upwards, guided by the violins and brings the cantata to a satisfying end.

On to Handel

Handel’s cantata, “Ah! crudel, nel pianto mio” (HWV 78) was also likely to have been composed in 1707 when he was living in Rome, although whether or not it was written for the Arcadian Academy is not known. Despite the text fitting neatly into the Arianna myth, it actually makes no mention of her, there is no backstory, just an unnamed woman reflecting on being betrayed by a lover. Like Scarlatti’s cantata it awash with changing emotions, but this is an internal journey, told exclusively in the first person. The piece is in six parts comprising a sonata, and three arias separated by recitatives.

Of the arias, the most appealing and the one exhibiting the most intense emotional honesty  is certainly, “Ah! crudel, nel pianto mio,” a lament for the errant lover who has abandoned her. Lindsey plumbs the depths of sorrow with a heart-wrenching presentation in which every word is turned to extract the maximum effect, every phrase is delicately, agonizingly woven, her voice clothed in a mournful veil. It also displays Lindsey’s excellent vocal control and her ability to insert the subtlest of well-placed embellishments.

Whilst the other arias may not be of the same brilliance, it does not prevent Lindsey making the most of them. Of note is her fine coloratura display in “Per trofei di mia costanza,” which is beautifully crafted and steers clear of any distasteful excess.

Again Lindsey’s recitatives are of high quality, in which the emotional meaning is always at the heart of the delivery. The accompanied recitative, “Balena il cielo, e il turbine che passa” is an extended metaphor in which Arianna compares the passing of a storm with overcoming her lover’s rejection. In a finely judged presentation Lindsey matches her singing perfectly to the text; during the violence of the storm she almost spits out the words, which she contrasts with the calm which follows by immediately allowing her voice to peacefully subside. Her subtle management of intonation and accenting, together with her change in vocal dynamics and the emotional undercurrent turn it into a dramatically strong piece.



Haydn’s Take

The final cantata is Haydn’s “Arianna a Naxos” (Hob.XXVIb:2) written with piano accompaniment in 1789, and as with Handel it is a first person reflection, although this time specifically incorporating elements of the Arianna myth. In 1808, Haydn’s former pupil Sigismund Neukomm provided an orchestration, and this is the version used on this recording. The cantata is in four parts, two arias separated by recitatives.

In the accompanying booklet James Halliday suggests that the work, requiring a singer of only a modest vocal compass and little in the way of vocal virtuosity, was probably written for an amateur performance.

Lindsey’s sensitive presentation, however, brings far more dramatic intensity than would be expected from an amateur performance. Of the two arias it is “Dove sei, mio bel tesore?” which immediately attracts the attention. Arianna after waking from her dream begins to sense that she is alone and a sense of disquiet slowly envelops her. Lindsey portrays the moment with understated beauty, in an unhurried and gentle presentation. There is no overreaction, her growing anxiety bubbles lightly beneath the surface. The truth, however, lies in the harmonic instability of the orchestra.

It is the recitatives, however, which really impress in this work.  The opening recitative, “Teseo io ben, ove sei Vicino?” is sung with such an intimate connection that it is impossible to be left in any doubt as to her love for Theseus, while her second recitative, “Ma, a chi parlo? Gli accenti,” a emotional rollercoaster of anxiety, shock, anger and disorientation, can leave the listener in no doubt of Lindsey’s expressive capabilities as she gives voice to Arianna’s inner tensions and rapid mood changes.

Jonathan Cohen and the Arcangelo ensemble provide an elegant and detailed  accompaniment, sensitive to the moods of each piece. The sonata which opens Handel’s cantata is given a polished performance.

“L’Arianna” is a delightful recording in which Lindsey’s expressive interpretive ability takes centre-stage. So successful are her portraits of Arianna, which have been individually crafted to reflect the emotional fabric of each cantata’s text and music, that it allows the listener to access Arianna’s emotional vortex at a meaningful level. It is, however, the ever-present, intimate connection which she is able to develop with the character that raises her performance to a higher level.




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