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Sarah Connolly

available at Amazon
Heroes and Heroines: Handel, Sarah Connolly, Symphony of Harmony and Invention, Harry Christophers (released on October 1, 2004)

Other Handel Discs:

Cecilia Bartoli

Natalie Dessay

Renée Fleming

Lorraine Hunt Lieberson

Sandrine Piau

Andreas Scholl
English mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly has been on the Ionarts radar for a while now. You have probably heard her on the many recordings she made with several early music groups -- The Sixteen, Les Arts Florissants, Collegium Vocale, Monteverdi Choir, King's Consort. If you are lucky, you have heard her in lead operatic roles since she set off on an increasingly successful solo career, especially in Handel, at New York City Opera, San Francisco Opera, the Met, Glyndebourne, Munich, La Scala, Paris, or English National Opera. Her recent Handel recital on disc, reportedly at least partially self-financed, makes clear why so many opera companies, if not yet Covent Garden, are hiring her. Sarah Noble was impressed, too.

Connolly's voice is one of the most sensuously luscious mezzo-sopranos around, sensitively supported here by Harry Christophers, director of The Sixteen, and a group called the Symphony of Harmony and Invention. The disc's title indicates the basic idea, to combine male and female roles composed for the mezzo voice, castrato or female. Most of the tracks are quite simply ravishing listening, especially the tender "Mi lusinga il dolce affetto" from Alcina and particularly exquisite "Scherza infida" from Ariodante. The latter is an opera that would be well worth hearing with Sarah Connolly in the title role. Connolly and Christophers chose arias not only from opera but from oratorio as well, combining the famous sinfonia for the arrival of the Queen of Sheba (one of five brief selections for instruments only, of 13 tracks, one from each set of vocal pieces) with "Will the sun forget to streak," both from Solomon. I confess that, in spite of being a baroqueux nut for historically informed performance, I am beginning to doubt whether natural horns are worth the occasionally ugly sounds they make, spoiling here the other delights of "Stà nell'Ircana" (Alcina).

Recent Sarah Connolly Discs:
available at Amazon
The Exquisite Hour, with Eugene Asti

available at Amazon
Mahler, Songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn, D. Henschel / P. Herreweghe
Connolly was quoted in The Telegraph saying the following about her work on Handel:
"I think the reason I love Handel so much is that I'm fascinated by harmony. The expressivity is all to do with understanding how the line and the ornamentation works with the harmony. [...] The trouble with being a singer is that a certain sort of conductor thinks you're thick. Especially if you're a woman, of course. But I knew I had intelligence" - here she corrects herself - "I knew I had musical intelligence, and sometimes I was just dying to say, 'Well, actually that tempo doesn't work', or, 'That ornament doesn't work with the harmony.' I remember one conductor said to me, 'How do you know so much about harmony?' Another bawled me out for daring to have an opinion."
Sarah Connolly's intelligence (musical and otherwise), sense of line, technical skill, and affective power invite comparison with the beloved and sadly departed Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. Indeed, the Handel concert that Hunt Lieberson was scheduled to sing last month at Tanglewood went on with another mezzo filling in for her, none other than Sarah Connolly, in excerpts from Ariodante, among other things. Connolly does not have all the reedy, occasionally strident intensity of Hunt Lieberson, but her voice is smoother, with fewer edges. This disc is definitely worth a listen.

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