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En Travesti
Anna Bonitatibus (mezzo-soprano)
Münchner Rundfunkorchester / Corrado Rovaris
rec. 2016 Studio 1, Bayerischer Rundfunk, Munich
No sung texts provided
BR-KLASSIK 900318 [66.42]

Renowned principally for her Mozart and Rossini roles, the repertoire of Italian mezzo-soprano Anna Bonitatibus includes over fifty operas including Baroque opera and Neapolitan opera buffa. A check of Bonitatibus’ schedule demonstrates how easily she moves between the famous operas to the exploration of rarer repertoire. Now on the BR-Klassik label Anna Bonitatibus has released her new album titled En Travesti made up of important and mainly famous arias by renowned composers taken from trouser roles originally composed for the female voice. Presented in chronological order the scope of the arias sung here ranges over a period of two hundred years from Handel’s Radamisto (1720) to Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges (1925) then extends almost a further seventy years to a song from the Henry Mancini musical Victor/Victoria (1994).

In her booklet note Bonitatibus explains that the travesti (trouser, breeches or pants role) – a woman performing dressed as a man – has been a regular sight in opera and music theatre for hundreds of years. One of the earliest trouser roles I know of is Nero in Monteverdi’s L'incoronazione di Poppea (1643). The idea that trouser roles were created to replace gradually parts that castrati would have sung is not correct, as during the prime of the castrati, women singers were regularly playing trouser roles. Prior to the dawn of the heroic tenor the female contralto or sometimes a soprano would play male roles notably those of princes, cavaliers, officers etc. The practice of casting trouser roles carried on through the twentieth-century notably with operas by Richard Strauss and contemporary composers such as Thomas Adès, who has continued the tradition.

What is striking is Bonitatibus’ uncommon sense of urgency and determination in the aria ‘Ferite, uccidete, oh numi del ciel!’ originally sung by soprano Margherita Durastanti who created the title role of the Prince from Handel’s Radamisto in London. From Vivaldi’s Farnace the aria ‘Gelido in ogni vena’ is performed by the king, in the title role originally sung by contralto Maria Maddalena Pieri in Venice. Farnace is lamenting the supposed death of his young son and Bonitatibus sings with a rapt tenderness, maintaining mood and concentration throughout this lengthy aria. Extremely well known is Cherubino’s aria ‘Voi, che sapete che cosa è amor’ from Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro sung at its premiere in Vienna by soprano Dorotea Bussani. Here the page Cherubino in his new uniform, declares that he has much love to give, with Bonitatibus exhibiting her creamy core together with a slightly fluttery vibrato which is noticeable but doesn’t intrude on my enjoyment. One of the finest arias from Meyerbeer’s epic grand opera Les Huguenots is ‘Non, non, vous n'avez jamais, je gage’ sung by page Urbain, a role created by soprano Maria Flécheux in Paris. Here Meyerbeer’s technically challenging writing gives Bonitatibus ample opportunity to demonstrate her impressive virtuosity.

One of my favourite operas is Offenbach’s Les contes d'Hoffmann and here we have Nicklausse’s ‘violin’ aria ‘Vois sous l'archet frémissant’ a role created by mezzo-soprano Marguerite Ugalde and introduced in Paris. Singing of music and love, this is most attractive singing from Bonitatibus with her low, rich register especially evident. Mezzo-soprano Ortensia Synnemberg created the role of the gypsy Beppe from Mascagni’s verismo opera L'Amico Fritz at its premiere in Rome. In Beppe’s aria ‘O pallida, che un giorno mi guardasti’ he tries to comfort his lovesick friend Fritz in a song rendered with noticeably weighty projection by Bonitatibus who leaps with relative ease to her high notes. One of the best known trouser roles in opera is Octavian the young count from Richard Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier, a role created by soprano Eva von der Osten; Octavian has made love to the Marschallin and in his aria ‘Wie du warst! Wie du bist!’ sings of his attraction to her, with Bonitatibus giving a particularly striking interpretation together with beautiful orchestral playing of the richly textured score. Closing the album is the song ‘Crazy World’ from Victor/Victoria the musical scored by Henry Mancini. The style and mood of the song feel incongruous to the rest of the operatic programme and in truth the English words don’t seem to suit Bonitatibus who isn’t a patch on Julie Andrews’ singing in the 1982 film.

In really fine condition Bonitatibus has a distinctive voice which soon becomes engaging and the degree of expression she communicates is exceptional. I relish the mezzo-soprano’s attention to the import of the text, with the ability to feel every word and move the listener. Under Italian conductor Corrado Rovaris the versatile Münchner Rundfunkorchester clearly enjoys the scope of the music, providing vivid colour and playing with impressive unity. There are no problems whatsoever with the clarity and balance of the sound recorded at Studio 1 of Bayerischer Rundfunk, Munich. Disappointingly the booklet has no sung texts and English translations which is unsatisfactory for a release of this type. Bonitatibus does provide a detailed note with her enthusiasm for these works shining through. Providing excellent context is the pretty much ideal essay titled ‘En Travesti’ by Guido Johannes Joerg.

In striking form Anna Bonitatibus with her distinctive voice and this captivating collection of trouser role arias makes ‘En Travesti’ a most attractive proposition.

Michael Cookson

George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
1. Ferite, uccidete, oh numi del ciel!
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
2. Gelido in ogni vena
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Le nozze di Figaro
3. Voi, che sapete che cosa è amor
Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
4. Oh patria! dolce, e ingrata patria!
Vincenzo BELLINI (1801-1835)
I Capuleti e i Montecchi
5. Tu sola, o mia Giulietta
Giacomo MEYERBEER (1791-1864)
Les Huguenots
6. Non, non, non, vous n'avez jamais
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)
Maria di Rohan
7. Son leggiero, è ver, d'amore
Christoph Willibald GLUCK (1714-1787) / Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)
Orphée et Eurydice
8. Qu'entends-je? Qu'a-t-il dit?
Jacques OFFENBACH (1819-1880)
Les contes d'Hoffmann
9. Vois sous l'archet frémissant
Pietro MASCAGNI (1863-1945)
L'Amico Fritz
10. O pallida, che un giorno mi guardasti
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
Manon Lescaut, SC 64
11. Sulla vetta tu del monte
Jules MASSENET (1842-1912)
12. Entr'acte, act 3
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Der Rosenkavalier
13. Act I: Wie du warst! Wie du bist!
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
L'enfant et les sortilèges
14. Toi, le coeur de la rose
Henry MANCINI (1924-1944)
Victor/Victoria, musical
15. Crazy World



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