In her third album for Alpha Classics, American mezzo Kate Lindsey explores themes of power, corruption, and tyranny through the baroque repertoire. The programming is canny – she offers up works by composers Scarlatti, Handel, Monteverdi and Monari that take audiences into the mind of Nero, his mother Agrippina, and wife Poppea.

Kate Lindsey

Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea will be the most familiar to audiences, with Lindsey presenting four selections from the opera. The most striking of these is Ottavia’s Addio Roma, bitter and full of recrimination. Like in her first recorded foray into the baroque for Alpha, 2020’s Arianna, Lindsey demonstrates stunning technical control and agility throughout, as well as an alertness to the text that is on full display here. She makes Ottavia’s great lament almost overwhelmingly physical, seeming to gasp for breath in the face of her unjust exile. 

The duet Pur ti miro, which features the gorgeous singing of soprano Nardus Williams, is a juxtaposition of the earthy and sublime, an obscenely beautiful capstone on a tale of overwhelming lust and violence. Tenor Andrew Staples joins Lindsey for the drinking scene with Lucano and Son rubin preziosi, an ideal foil for her vivid portrayals of dissolution and desire. Lindsey is particularly compelling in the latter, presenting a Nero whose love for Poppea borders on the obsessive.

Handel’s cantata Agrippina condotta a morire takes us into a markedly different sound world, Lindsey changing vocal tack in an astonishing way. Depicting the eponymous Agrippina just prior to her execution (ordered, of course, by Nero), the mezzo takes on a patrician, almost matronly quality to the voice, illustrating the character’s turbulent state of mind with astonishing facility. 

Rendo cenere il tiranno is stunningly raw, while Come, O Dio is profoundly moving. The brief closing aria Su lacerate il seno takes on a frenzied quality, as if the walls are finally closing in on Agrippina. The playing of Arcangelo under Jonathan Cohen is particularly special here, and they prove just as attendant to the drama as Lindsey.

Alongside these two well-known works are the world premiere recordings of two cantatas – Scarlatti’s La morte di Nerone (c.1690) and Monari’s La Poppea (1685). Both are preceded by Scarlatti’s Io son Neron, which has been recorded previously. Here Lindsey revels in showing the petulant, cruel face of Nero, who is all unmediated id. 

In La morte di Nerone, a fascinating complement to the Handel cantata, Nero is haunted by his long list of sins, many of which he has visited upon his most intimate relations. There’s a spectral quality to Lindsey’s voice here that will leave you shaken, as if tainted by what’s been recounted.

Monari’s cantata La Poppea is no balm – here the Empress is depicted on death’s door, caused by Nero repeatedly kicking her pregnant stomach. The dissonant harmonies bring us deep into her torment and pain, and Lindsey is exemplary in every regard – sorrow, resentment, and rage are all intermingled, a portrait of unmitigated suffering.

Listen on Apple Music.

Composers: Scarlatti, Handel, Montiverdi
Works: Arias and Cantatas
Performers: Kate Lindsey, Arcangelo, Jonathan Cohen
Label: Alpha ALPHA736