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Hiding behind Decca’s misleading title and silly cover photo is an enjoyable disc of well-sung arias. What we really have here are four contemporary divas – three mezzos and a contralto (Prina) – performing a variety of arias nearly all composed for castrati between 1724 and 1774.

The booklet essay tries to corral the arias into a thematic framework, grandly titled ‘the eternal clash of singers “ancient” and “modern”’. The ‘clash’ refers to the period, circa 1720–1750, when highly virtuosic singing became all the rage in opera. The CD features three arias written for the star soloists of this flamboyant ‘modern’ style (soprano Faustina Bordoni, castrati Farinelli and Caffarelli), plus nine others for singers of the less florid styles that flourished immediately before and after the fashion for vocal extravagance.

Decca’s divas are equally adept at both ‘ancient’ and ‘modern’: Mary-Ellen Nesi spits fury to thrilling effect on arias by Bononcini and Gluck; Vivica Genaux dispatches with aplomb Veracini’s absurdly bravura ‘Amor, dover, rispetto’ (an aria the notes claim is ‘among the most difficult ever written for the human voice’), yet is no less impressive in Hasse’s tenderly lyrical ‘Fra quest’ombre’. Other highlights include Vivaldi’s haunting ‘Vedrò con mio diletto’, sung with superbly controlled pathos by Romina Basso, and Vinci’s heroic ‘Ti calpesto, o crudo amore’, which Sonia Prina delivers with strutting panache.

Graham Lock Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Early Music Today, 2016 - ©Rhinegold Publishing