Monday Music: Scherza Infida (G.F. Handel)

I think my love for both Handel and Ian Bostridge are pretty well established now, and if you spend much time on this blog, you will probably find yourself getting to know them rather well.  Part of me feels that I should be looking for more variety, but honestly, this blog is about the music I love, and, well, this is it.  And this particular aria contains, I think, some truly perfect singing, especially in the repeat at the end.

Actually, I have a confession to make: for all my singing studies and choirs and such, I actually don’t listen to music all that much.  It’s something I feel a bit guilty about, but there you have it – it either doesn’t engage my attention, or I want to sing it.  Apparently, I like to participate in my art.  But this piece – and the CD it comes from (Great Handel) – is the exception.  Suddenly, I listen, and I want to listen, and don’t feel the need to add anything or to try it myself.  And it’s actually relaxing, which is rather fascinating, as I was *frequently* exhorted to listen to music as a form of relaxation as I was growing up, and I didn’t get relaxed, I got bored and irritable…

This music, sung in Bostridge’s voice, is just magical.

(Which is not to say I don’t then end up singing the arias under my breath at the tram-stop, but that’s not something that will ever change.)

Actually, this aria was never intended for a tenor singer, being originally written for a castrato.  This does present certain difficulties for modern productions, and the role is generally sung by a mezzo soprano.  The difficulty with this (and I say this as the girl who invariably ends up with the male alto solos in her early music choir) is that the notes sit very differently in a female voice – it’s difficult to get a good volume and intensity into the lower notes (which would sit in the middle of the castrato range, but are at the very bottom of the female range), though the upper notes float beautifully. Here’s Magdalena Kozena doing a lovely, dramatic job of the aria, complete with some pretty impressive low notes in the final section.  Don’t piss off the mezzo, that’s what I say..

The other alternative, of course, is to give the role to a counter-tenor.  This is probably more authentic, but risks shrillness in the upper register (I’ve just sat through 6 different recordings of this piece by counter tenors, and most of them made me wince for that very reason).   Here, for your interest and delectation, is a counter-tenor version of this aria, sung by David Daniels, which is not remotely shrill and is in fact absolutely fabulous.  His ornamentation in the repeat is positively swoon-worthy, and makes me feel that those five painful recordings were worth it to find this one…

… Oh, you want lyrics?  Very well then…

E vivo ancora? e senza il ferro, oh Dei!
Che farò? che mi dite, o affanni miei?Scherza infida in grembo al drudo.

Io tradito a morte in braccio,
per tua colpa ora men vò.
Ma a spezzar l’indegno laccio,
ombra msta, e spirto ignudo,
per tua pena io tornerò.

Am I still living? and thus unarmed, alas!
What shall I do? What do you say, my sorrows?
Laugh, faithless woman, in your lover’s arms.
By your fault I find myself
betrayed, approaching death.
But I shall return, a sad shade
and naked spirit to torment you
and to break this base liaison.

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