Handel Arias Kammerorchester Basel; Laurence Cummings, conductor (Sony Classical)
Even in this age of a million (it seems) mezzos of astonishing ability and musicianship, Kirchschlager stands out in both the art song and trouser-role repertoires. She’s inevitably singing with heart on sleeve, whether it’s as Cherubino in Le Nozze di Figaro with René Jacobs (harmonia mundi), folk songs by Stephen Foster or Handel’s florid lyrics of love and war. The Figaro appearance she canceled at Lyric Opera in 2003 means that she’s still missed here.
This disc collects Italian arias from Ariodante, Guilio Cesare and Arianna in Creta. Her lower register blooms as she sings the descending scales of Ariodante’s “Qui d’amor,” a sinuous slow aria of pastoral bliss, and the quicker “Con l’ali di costanza” that follows it displays her easy way with Handel’s rapidly ornamented passages.
But it’s the Giulio Cesare arias that make the disc such an arresting listen. Kirchschlager’s exciting performance as the betrayed boy Sesto in Giulio Cesare has been captured on DVD, and three of Sesto’s arias are repeated here. Her vocalism is even more assured minus the stage trappings, as in the da capo aria “Svegliatevi nel core,” when she asks her murdered father to “awaken the wrath of an offended soul.” Her ferocity is frightening, as it is again in “L’angue offeso,” whose strings slither behind her with great menace before Sesto avenges his father.
Alas, Kirchschlager won’t sing Sesto next season in Lyric Opera’s Giulio production—Maite Beaumont will—but this disc will suffice till she finally makes a live appearance.