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Culture: CLASSICAL CD REVIEWS: Recreating a bygone artistic brilliance.

Byline: Christopher Morley

Andreas Scholl: Arias for Senesino(Decca 475 6569) HHHHH Operatic prima donnas have strutted their stuff since the art-form first came into existence four centuries ago. We are still fascinated by self-willed divas and their antics (often the only time opera gets mentioned in the tabloids).

But it's not only the female of the species that stamps its foot and throws tantrums, and in the first part of the 18th century the men were just as volatile and notorious. Handel had problems not only with his lady superstars tearing each other's hair out onstage; he also had to put up with the temper of the greatest castrato of the age, Carlo Broschi.

Nicknamed Senesino (from his Siena birthplace), the male alto had a reputation for arrogance and insolence, unattractive spoilt brat characteristics which probably added to his fascination. On the evidence of the music written specifically for him (this CD has examples by Handel, Albinoni, Lotti, Scarlatti and Porpora) he was endowed with wonderful artistic gifts: spitfire agility in running passage-work; stupendous breath-control both here and in sustained long notes which seem to last forever; dramatic strengths encompassing a huge range of emotion - undeniable "star" quality.

And Andreas Scholl, probably the hottest property among our current countertenors, recreates these characteristics with a skill which can only leave the listener aghast with admiration. There is a warmth to the voice, a capacity for expressive nuancing and a command of technique which brings these arias brilliantly to life.

He is supported by the crisp, bouncy Accademia Bizantina directed with verve from the harpsichord by Ottavio Dantone - and they all come to Symphony Hall tomorrow evening (7.30pm, details on 0121 780 3333
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Nov 3, 2005
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