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on November 29, 2011 (November 29, 2011)
Orfeo 55, Nathalie Stutzmann
What is the opera singer Nathalie Stutzmann doing on the cover of her new album with a baton in her hand? She may be a Prima Donna, but she’s certainly wearing the pants for this recording, in which she sings with and conducts her own period ensemble, Orfeo 55, even wielding a tambourine on the final track.
The French contralto is undoubtedly a musicians’ singer, and her insights into this repertoire, as a frequent star of Naïve’s Vivaldi opera edition, are invaluable.
Prima Donna emphatically reclaims these arias from the castrati, acknowledging Vivaldi’s own preference for the warmth of the female contralto voice. He would have loved Stutzmann’s – smooth and velvety across all registers and precise in coloratura despite a rich vibrato. Her focus, however, seems to be sculpting a fine melodic line rather than building the kind of dramatic intensity needed in Juditha’s Agitata infido flatu. She is at her most persuasive, then, luxuriating in the slower tempi of Cor mio che prigion sei and Transit aetas. But some high-energy moments impress: lively recitative in Gemo in un punto e fremo, a peppy L’innocenza sfortunata (this version is the most fun I’ve heard on disc) and Con la face di Megera with its “cruel bloodshed”, “barbaric fury” and a single, powerful low D.
She reveals her prowess as a conductor in the three-movement sinfonia from L’Olimpiade. Unlike many Vivaldi vocal recitals there is plenty of orchestral variety to maintain interest – stately horns, lusty recorder and the delicate strains of a psaltery emerge as memorable details. Whether singing trouser roles or conducting, Stutzmann is a leading lady of distinction.