Two Angry Sopranos

Handel wrote some wonderful music for angry soprano. This video below is Dalinda’s aria “Neghittosi, or voi che fate?” from Act III of Ariodante. Dalinda is calling on heaven to punish Polinesso for his evil deeds.

The interesting thing about this is that, one, it’s great fun. Here is the version, sadly in English, from the ENO Ariodante I watched this past weekend:

Two, the aria is also interesting in terms of its function in the story. You can make the argument that Dalinda’s imprecation has consequences. The point of having Polinesso and Lurcanio fight to the death in Act III in order to determine whether Ginevra has been unchaste depends upon the assumption that heaven determines the outcome of such events and will award victory to the most righteous combatant. Polinesso is, as you would expect, sort of cheating: he is defending Ginevra, and of course he knows that she is innocent and thus he is technically correct. But only technically. In the production this is from, he is distracted by a vision of Ginevra and Lurcanio administers the fatal blow. The point is not that Dalinda somehow causes this directly. The point is that the opera is operating, dramatically, within a world view in which there are gods and they determine the course of human events, so cursing people makes sense. Dalinda’s anger isn’t “crazy woman out of control” – it’s a demand that heaven do its damned job already.

Here are two performances of the aria in its Italian form:

The first is from a recording from the late 1970s. The singer in this instance is Norma Burrowes, and it’s striking how controlled Dalinda’s anger is here. The recitative has some drama to it, and the aria itself is certainly not boring, but this is not “Dalinda is royally pissed.” This is more “Dalinda is angry in a kind of heavily stylized classical-theater way.” The way she stretches out each syllable of “ful-mi-na-te” gives it a sort of over-controlled feeling. Burrowes has a nice bright voice, though. This is not unpleasant to listen to, and it certainly tells you a great deal about how baroque performance practice has changed for the better over the past few decades.

The second is from this recording, which needs no flogging from the likes of me, but which I will flog nonetheless because I think it’s great. Dalinda here is Sabina Puértolas, and Dalinda is mad as hell. And I like it. The tempo is much quicker, the orchestral playing has a wonderful bite to it and Puértolas rips into each syllable as if she’d tear Polinesso’s head off right then and there with her bare hands.

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