Arias for Domenico Annibali – the Dresden star castrato

Flavio Ferri-Benedetti, Il Basilico
65:17
Pan Classics PC10341
Music by Feo, Handel, Hasse, Latilla, Porpora, Ristori & Zelenka

Domenico Annibali was one of the leading castrati at the Dresden court in the mid 18th century, creating many ‘primo uomo’ roles for Hasse, the distinguished Kapellmeister, and performing also in works by Zelenka, Ristori and Porpora, amongst others. Additionally, he obtained leave of absence for a season in 1736/7 to come to London to sing for Handel at Covent Garden. He was clearly a formidably accomplished performer; the arias recorded here cover a wide dramatic range, from poised and affective bel canto to dazzling coloratura drama.

Flavio Ferri-Benedetti gives us a good taste of Annibali’s great artistry. He is at his mellifluous best in the slower pieces – try the opening Ristori ‘Belleze Adorate’, or Handel’s stately ‘Vado ad Morire’ (track 4) with its continuo-accompanied opening, the band being held back until the music moves to the dominant, creating a remarkable sense of spaciousness. He is joined in further Handel (from Berenice) by Carla Nahadi Babelegoto’s graceful soprano. In the faster and especially the more dramatically urgent pieces, he displays remarkable agility, though his tone becomes a little harder; from time to time his breathing between phrases has also been rather closely miked for comfort. For me, the most enjoyable track was the last one, from G. A. Ristori’s Componiment per musica, with its extended accompagnato (note the lovely pastoral drones) and firecracker of an aria.

Throughout, Il Basilico play like angels – there is a jaw-dropping display of solo horn (Olivier Picon) and solo theorbo (Ori Hannelin) in Hasse’s ‘Cervo al Bosco’ from Cleofide, and the strings produce tremendous dash and attack under Eva Saladin’s excellent leadership.

Silvano Monti’s sleevenotes are a worthy complement to this fine disc.

Alastair Harper