Composers: Cavalli
Compositions: Opera arias
Performers: Philippe Jaroussky ct, Artaserse
Catalogue Number: Erato 9029551819

What a delight is this latest and somewhat provocatively-titled recording (after all, it’s not that Ombra mai fu!) from superstar countertenor Philippe Jaroussky. For two reasons: the music – utterly exquisite – and the performances – again, utterly exquisite. If Claudio Monteverdi contributed to opera’s birth, his pupil Francesco Cavalli (1602-1676) was there for its riotous teenage years. Of his 33 operas, 27 still survive, of which the more than 20 items here seek to give some idea of their variety and invention.

But first, to give you an idea of the ensemble, because its minimalist forces and maximal colours are integral to the power of these performances: bowed strings, including two violins and two gambas, a viola and violone; plucked strings including guitar, archlute, harp and harpsichord; two sets of cornetts and recorders; and percussion. So, there is Ombra mai fu from 1654’s Xerse – delicate, clothed in different textures and colours, reminiscent of dappled light. By contrast, the next aria is the martial All’armi, mio core, sung with a fiery confidence. There are saucy numbers like Calisto’s Ninfa bella, where Jaroussky is joined by contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux. There are perky little numbers, like Che città, where the pizzicato violone swings like a jazz bass.

But best, by far, are those ravishing lamenti for which Cavalli was renowned. One of the finest examples is Uscitemi dal cor, lacrime amare. Here, Jaroussky sings with the utmost delicacy and warmth.