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The mezzo Faustina Bordoni (1697–1781) was noted not only for the brilliance of her coloratura technique, but a famous rivalry with the soprano Francesca Cuzzoni (1696–1778) that kept London tongues wagging during the 1720s, when both were appearing in Handel’s operas. For more musical partisans of the pair, there were fundamental differences, Cuzzoni being seen as an upholder of a traditional lyrical eloquence best suited to tragic roles, while Bordoni’s bravura adroitness and acting abilities were ideal for strong parts. In fact, the arias composed for Bordoni on this CD clearly show that such compartmentalisation is at best misleading, as can be clearly seen from the totally contrasted arias for Rosmira from Domenico Sarro’s Partenope (Naples, 1726).

It would be pleasing to report that the Polish mezzo Agata Bienkowska conveys some suggestion of the glittering world of Faustina in this fascinating collection of arias by Sarro, Pietro Torri (Griselda, Munich, 1723), Handel (Alessandro), and Bordoni’s husband Hasse. Sadly, although she often brings a good sense of drama to the music, the rich vibrato-laden fruitiness is simply not suited to this repertoire, while the frequent pitch problems are not suited to any repertoire. The overall impression is not helped by scrawny string tone, the lack of printed texts, and the mean playing time (52 minutes). Disappointing.

Brian Robins Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Early Music Today, 2014 - ©Rhinegold Publishing