My reviewing duties for Limelight keep me constantly supplied with recital and aria discs – dream job or what? – but the pitfall is that I've become lazy about keeping up with all the releases which don't come my way. When I worked in music stores it was easy: I ordered the things and opened the boxes, which meant first dibs on almost anything. Now I'm hopeless, and every time I hop over to Presto Classical to check a catalogue number or even a composer (seriously, record labels, please include track information in your digital downloads!) I stumble across a new or recent – or even distressingly non-recent – release about which I had not an inkling, and upon which my future happiness clearly and urgently depends.
Which might have happened with Karina Gauvin's latest bit of brilliance had a kind and clever blog commenter not gently pointed me in its direction. It was mine within minutes. I'm still catching up at glacial pace on Karina's extensive ATMA back catalogue – she's been hearteningly prolific for the last decade or more and I am a Terrible Person for not realising it sooner – but chronological rigour can wait when there's Handel to be had from she who is fast becoming one of my firmest favourites.
I was briefly surprised that she had another Handel CD in her, then remembered that the last two were oratorio and duets respectively. This one is all about the meaty operatic stuff, with lashings of Alcina and a side of Angelica (Ariosto's princess, not the Rugrats supervillain) and even a little Vivaldi and Vinci – the unifying factor, as with so many aria discs lately, is a diva, in this case Anna Maria Strada del Pò, for whom all these nine minute extravaganzas were written. Emilia Marty mightn't have thought much of her but the lady could clearly sing, and if we can't hear her, then I'm more than happy to accept Karina in her place.
In fact I would accept Karina in almost anybody's place. It was her Ginevra on the Alan Curtis Alcina which belatedly alerted me to her exceptional charms; it might have been The Joyce DiDonato Show in many ways, but there's no second fiddling for Karina and the Alcina arias on this album are ample proof – not that it was necessary – that she could have carried the title role with at least as much charisma and frightening skill. Now there's a Curtis Giulio Cesare that's surfaced – I almost missed that one too – which puts Karina in her rightful place as Cleopatra, with the wonderful Marie-Nicole Lemieux as Cesare, and let's just say it's on my Christmas list. In bold and underlined. Pay attention, Santa.
In the meantime, there's this album, and she is as dazzling and delicious as ever. It seems awkward to compare her voice with food, but forgive me: it really is good enough to eat. Her singing is so pristine, so pearly and so lucid, with every coloratura ripple immaculately executed, but beneath the gleam there's a warmth to it too, and so much more colour than simple silver. And remarkably she resists wallowing in her own fabulousness – her "Ah, mio cor", for instance, has a stark, pained edge to it, despite all its myriad opportunities for prolonged vocal basking – and emerges all the lovelier for it.
I babble like a fangirl possessed and yet you'd be surprised – appalled, even – by how few of her recordings I own and how many I have yet to acquire. I have a vague memory of making this same confession last year, which makes my sin all the more reprehensible. My only wispy defence is that the few I do own all provide such sustenance that to pile even more on would be decadent; but that won't hold water. I must do better. Canteloube, Debussy, Purcell, Britten, Poulenc and more, all there for the taking. I'd be a fool to resist.