This collection reunites Australian mezzo-soprano Fiona Campbell and American countertenor David Walker in duet following performances with Pinchgut Opera in Vivaldi’s Juditha Triumphans and Cavalli’s L’Ormindo. The latter was the starting point for this inspired partnership, with two scenes bound to please Pinchgut devotees since the production was never recorded for commercial release.

A protégé of Monteverdi, Cavalli was the most influential and prolific opera composer of the 17th century. With duets from his L’Ormindo and La Calisto framing the album, Campbell and Walker invite listeners to dine on a banquet of Italian Baroque delicacies, with a few choice excerpts from Handel’s English oratorios and operas for good measure. Most of the duets being love songs or laments, there is much sighing and weeping and few opportunities to break out of a solemn mood. 

In L’Ormindo’s extended Act III death scene Campbell’s warm mezzo is not always as controlled as it could be, but her unbridled fervour captures the anguish of a heroine’s darkest hour. Luminous, vibrato-less strings from period-instrument ensemble Ironwood bring clarity and gravity to the moment.

Pur ti miro from Monteverdi’s L’Incoronazione di Poppea is the earliest work on the menu and the most ravishing, with voices so ideally matched and sensually intertwined it can be hard to tell who is singing which line.

Both singers are adept Handelians whose individual gifts are sampled in solo arias: Walker in the sorrow-tinged pastoral idyll of Verdi prati from Alcina, while Campbell’s exquisite stillness as Cleopatra in Alexander Balus has me hanging off every note. The brilliant dual coloratura of Handel’s Caro autor (in a two-alto arrangement never before recorded) ends the album on a high, from darkness to light.

Interview: Fiona Campbell

David and I hit it off right away professionally and vocally when we sang together in Pinchgut Opera’s productions of L’Ormindo (Cavalli) and Juditha Triumphans (Vivaldi). What was special was that our voices blended so beautifully – we’ve both got that depth to the colour so when we’re together we almost sound like two male altos, then of course when I sing the higher line it turns into that more shimmering soprano sound. For that reason the album artwork is a nod to castrati, countertenors, women playing pants roles, and the fact that they are actually all similar voice-types. And we wanted an edgy look, because the music is beautiful but the emotions are still relevant today.

We thought carefully about the emotional shape of the album to take people on a journey, and also about how each piece would relate to the next or to the one before. We move from love to terror to hope, so there’s a whole array of emotions all the way through.

There’s no Vivaldi in this mainly Italian program because there is already a complete recording of us singing together in his Juditha Triumphans. We were the baddies in that, which was fantastic!

Recording sessions are a lot of pressure because you want to get it absolutely right. We were under time pressure, especially with the amount of repertoire we recorded, but working with Ironwood made it a joyful process as well.

Neal Peres Da Costa and the producer Lyle Chan did extensive research to find something that hadn’t been recorded before, and that’s when they came up with not one but two world premieres. It’s a total coup for us to have made the first recording of these gems by Handel and Steffani.

My voice suits the Baroque era, and I love the challenge of the musicianship. There’s this idea that Baroque music is simpler or easier somehow, and it’s totally false; in fact, it’s my belief that you have to have a greater technique to convey all the delicacy and elegance of phrasing.