Roberta Invernizzi is very clearly one of the finest sopranos to be heard today in the Baroque - and especially the Italian Baroque - repertory, as evidenced by the beauty that she brings not only to operatic roles and vocal roles which have been essayed by many other famous singers both on record and in performance, but also by her sense of clarity in and characterization of unknown music from the 17th and 18th centuries. The rediscovery of so much Italian music is a reflection of the labour and artistry of numerous musical minds but as a kind of prima donna inter pares the Milanese soprano stands out from many others for the intensity of her approach, to the point that she is emerging as a new muse for other distinguished modern-day practitioners of the Italian Baroque such as Fabio Bonizzoni and Antonio Florio who contribute here their own thoughts on the artistry of Roberta Invernizzi, adding to the soprano’s own considerations about her musical life.
It is a wonderful thing that, for all the glories of her ensemble work, Invernizzi is now emerging on record as a star in her own right; the new release of the Italianate pastiche opera Gli strali d’Amore with music by André Campra on Glossa sees the soprano move centre stage and there are further recording plans afoot casting her as the principal protagonist. Here is a soprano voice that can call vividly to mind the impulsive demands of a Handel, a Vivaldi or a Leonardo Vinci writing for the demands of their own muses, as clearly in the 21st century as in three centuries or more ago. What then, for this portrait, is the public and musical persona of this muse, who has already made in the region of eighty recordings across her career and whose fans clamour on the likes of Facebook and YouTube for yet more?
Developing such an extensive repertory
The breadth of Invernizzi’s repertory - especially in music from the Italian Baroque - has become quite staggering (one would literally stagger under the weight of all the scores that she has had to address...), as is her supreme facility in rising to the challenge that each score presents. How then, does she herself view the hard work and labour needed? “Since my childhood I have always been attracted to early music. Indeed, I began developing and nourishing this passion from the first moment I started singing.” For her, the continuing pleasure and attraction of singing such music, in taking part so actively in the modern day rediscovery of Italian Baroque music lies in “being able to continuously discover the differences in compositional styles.” And, as she adds, “there is all the pleasure to be had in singing in the Italian language itself. For me, it feels like home”. On a more pragmatic note Invernizzi goes on to say that “effective sight-reading has been extremely important for me in my career, even more so when it needs to be called into action for the purpose of making last-minute substitutions for other singers who might have had to drop out of a performance!”
Over the years the artistry of Roberta Invernizzi has evoked countless glowing comments of appreciation from the critics, from the “intensity and delicacy, her control of pitch and phrase production” in arias by Leonardo Vinci to her “great radiance of tone” in the role of Belleza in Handel’s Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno to frequent approval for her sensitivity, refinement and subtlety. And when Invernizzi appeared on the stage of the Teatro Real in Madrid for a concert version performance of Handel’s Agrippina two years ago, Santiago Martín Bermúdez noted of her portrayal of Nerone that her light lyrical soprano carried it off with “a very beautiful colouring, extremely agile in her embellishments and ornamentations, the vocalises, the ascents to the high notes...”
Handel and “Italian” Campra with Fabio Bonizzoni
One of the directors with whom Roberta Invernizzi has worked frequently and with notable success is her fellow Milanese Fabio Bonizzoni, keyboard player and director of the baroque orchestra La Risonanza. Bonizzoni recalls that their first concerts together go back to when they were both music students in their twenties (“some time ago”, as he chivalrously says). Since those early days, he remarks, “we gave some of our first professional concerts together, we made some of our first recordings together under the auspices of La Risonanza, and our collaboration and our careers have since developed in what seems to me to be a smooth and quite parallel way.” With all that experience of Invernizzi’s singing, how does Bonizzoni value her vocal talents now? “She has a beautiful voice and is also very intuitive and spontaneous. So, she has all such typical qualities of voice and technique, but what is perhaps more striking is her understanding of the dramatic role.” Dramatic music, whether it is opera or other forms current in the Baroque era clearly attracts Invernizzi herself for, as she says, “For me it’s definitely the musical characterization of the various roles and their theatricality which is important. It is that draws me to such music!”
And it is that sense of the dramatic role which has come to the fore in Bonizzoni’s newest recording for Glossa, a pastiche opera, Gli strali d’Amore with arias by André Campra, and recitatives freshly-prepared by Bonizzoni himself in conjunction with Angela Romagnoli, a musicologist skilled in the librettos of the 17th and 18th centuries. The Italian arias for this opera are taken from the Aix-en-Provence-born Campra’s operas written in France, but it is worth noting that his father Jean-François (a surgeon and violinist) had been born in Turin and that André was as skilled as any French composer in the Italian style, especially since the death of Lully in 1687 had dispensed with the prohibition on Italian music in France.
Bonizzoni summarizes the plot of Gli strali d’Amore thus, “It is basically a very typical one as could be found in the 17th and 18th centuries. There are three characters: one woman and two men. Both men - the younger Lelio and the older Doctor - are in love with the beautiful Leonora. She only loves the former but the Doctor keeps hoping that she will fall in love with him as well. He is trying to convince Leonora that he has his own qualities. At times Leonora is flattered, at others she gets very angry. There is a really happy ending (again a topos of what happens in original librettos of the time) where Leonora decides once more on her love for Lelio. The Doctor recognizes finally that this is the real wish of Leonora and he is happy for the two of them and gives his protection to them both.”
It sounds as though this pastiche opera is focusing very much on its female lead and is thus more than suitable for a Roberta Invernizzi? “Yes, you could say that because she Leonora really the queen of the stage at that point”, replies Bonizzoni. “Roberta is more than capable of conveying all the necessary emotions involved here but whilst we know her for her beautiful voice and the ease where she sings coloratura and expressive arias, she is also extremely expressive in recitatives. I really enjoyed writing recitatives for her for this pastiche opera, knowing her voice and her character, as I do. I really felt myself to be in the position of the composer who is not only putting in music the story, which he has in front of him, but also knows well for whom he is writing. This really does change your way of writing because when you are writing you not only imagine the music or the sound but you imagine the person who is going to sing it. So, this has been a wonderful experience for me because I was taken up in a kind of feeling that Handel (just to name a composer very close to me!) would have had when he was writing in Italy for the likes of the soprano Margherita Durastanti.
One of the performing and recording projects which has enjoyed a great deal of critical and public success in recent years has been Bonizzoni’s series of instrumentally-accompanied Italian cantatas by Handel, in which Roberta Invernizzi has appeared on no less than nine of the cantatas written by the composer when in Italy from 1706-10 (Glossa has recently also issued a special two-disc “Portrait” album featuring Invernizzi’s Handel cantatas contributions). Had Bonizzoni had a special reason for involving Invernizzi so consistently in what has gone on to become a multi-award winning series of seven CDs on Glossa? “As I say, Margherita Durastanti was Handel’s favourite soprano when he was writing those cantatas and most of them were composed for her. Looking at the writing of these cantatas and also knowing Roberta’s voice I came to the conclusion that Roberta’s way of singing and her way of voice must be quite close what Durastanti’s would have been, because the parts Handel wrote for her are just perfect for Roberta’s voice. So I simply thought that Roberta was the best singer today for this music. She is such a strong presence on this collaborative effort of the Handel Cantatas series and it is an opportunity for listeners to enjoy hearing her at her best.” David Vickers in Gramophone commenting on the first volume of the cantatas noted that Invernizzi “brings the dramatic sense of the poetry fully to life, while also delivering inch-perfect coloratura and stylish phrasing.”
Although frequently recorded individually these cantatas had for long remained a somewhat awkward and under-estimated grouping of works from an early stage in Handel’s compositional career until Bonizzoni and his team of collaborators of singers and instrumentalists brought their precise (and distinctly Italian) insights to it. Such was the continuing caution and apprehension surrounding this area of Handel’s output that even Invernizzi herself says now, that “whilst its success has brought me great pleasure that I have also been somewhat surprised by it.”
South to Naples, and Antonio Florio
Roberta Invernizzi has participated in another great adventure in Italian music of recent times, namely the exploration of the Baroque musical life of Naples (often regarded in the days of the yet-to-be-united Italy as more of a capital city than Rome as far as music was concerned) as it developed through and away from the period of the Spanish viceroyalty. Antonio Florio and his ensemble I Turchini, whose recordings have previously been issued on labels such as Symphonia and Opus 111 (Naïve) but are now coming out on Glossa, recalls the heady times of the 1990s and 2000s when compositional names unknown even to serious connoisseurs such as Francesco Provenzale, Giuseppe Cavallo, Cristofaro Caresana, Leonardo Vinci, Leonardo Leo, Gaetano Latilla and Niccolò Jommelli, all started to have their music emerge in fresh and stylishly idiomatic performances. “Look, in those exciting years we were little by little bringing into the light a whole territory of music which - at that time - was virtually completely unexplored; to have at one’s disposition a musician - it is important to emphasize this aspect - as enthusiastic as Roberta was marvellous. She, along with Pino De Vittorio, perfectly matched the more salient, characteristic and contrasting aspects of this Neapolitan music.” A reminder of those earlier times also comes with a forthcoming triple-disc reissue on Glossa, Il Canto della Sirena (originally put out by Symphonia) of Neapolitan cantatas (led by the music of Francesco Provenzale), featuring that charismatic singer and actor Pino De Vittorio.
How does Invernizzi herself regard the contribution of Florio and team to our awareness today of such Neapolitan music? “Their passion and determination has made them the leading scholars and propagators of Neapolitan music worldwide. I respect them greatly for their work and thank them for bringing us so much lovely music.” Does Florio have particular memories of Invernizzi’s contribution to this adventure? “Most definitely. When we first met I was struck immediately by Roberta’s musicality and by her maturity despite her being so young. I recall her especially in La colomba ferita by Provenzale and in Vinci’s Li Zite ’Ngalera. For these, she learnt the Neapolitan language, with all its stresses, accents and subtleties with a surprising skilfulness, and in that vein I also want to mention her performance in Giuseppe Paisiello’s Pulcinella vendicato where she was extraordinary as much as from a dramatic point of view as for vocal reasons.” Invernizzi’s consummate command of textual matters went further, for Provenzale’s sacred opera, La colomba ferita, as well as calling for comic characterizations from the singers also demanded Invernizzi tackling Calabrian, whilst Latilla’s 1738 opera buffa La finta cameriera necessitated her being versed additionally in Tuscan. And quite rightly too has she been praised for involved in the Napoli/Madrid recording of music by Vinci (an influence on Handel among others) still available from Naïve.
How does Invernizzi, with all her singing experience, rate such music by composers such as Provenzale, Latilla or Caresana compared to better-known composers from those times such as Alessandro Scarlatti or Vivaldi? “For me they are absolutely on the same level and I think at times that some of the Neapolitans can be even more surprising than their better-known fellow composers.”
To what does Florio ascribe Invernizzi’s enthusiasm and brio for what is a very dramatic form of interpretation? “It comes from the fact that Roberta is a truly great singer, she knows how to mould herself with great ease to any demand for any affect or for any call for virtuosity. For me hers is the voice of the Baroque par excellence. Working with her is always a great pleasure.”
In such Neapolitan music how much significance does Florio ascribe to the art of improvisation? “This aspect is of the greatest importance, because without the creativity of improvisation -above all in 17th century Neapolitan music - that repertory would end up empty or devoid of much significance! The danger which we faced, I see clearly now, was of improvising without a stylistic understanding which might give plenty of rope to a certain carelessness and superficiality, which could end being motivated more by commercial than musicological reasons. In that Roberta has always been adaptable and flexible and has always captured the spirit, the taste and the technical-expressive skill.” Invernizzi studied the classical double-bass (as well as the piano) when she was younger, although this part of her musical training didn’t prepare her for improvisatory insights, but, she says, “However, I do think that improvisation is important in Baroque music and one does need to have at least some improvisational ability - even if, I don’t think that such an approach has that much to do with jazz improvising.”
Other directors contribute...
And in this portrait of Roberta Invernizzi’s musical journey thus far, it should not forgotten that, as well as working with Antonio Florio and Fabio Bonizzoni, the soprano has been frequently performing with a number of the other leading directors of Baroque repertoire, notably fellow Italians with whom she has been providing further demonstrations of her immense versatility. Rinaldo Alessandrini, for example, has called on the Milanese singer for three of his contributions to Naïve’s Vivaldi Edition (the operas L’Olimpiade and Ottone in Villa - the latter recorded in Valladolid - as well as the Vespri per l’Assunzione di Maria Vergine), whilst the “honorary” Italian Alan Curtis has featured Invernizzi in his recordings of Handel and Vivaldi operatic works.
Fabio Biondi is another long-standing musical partner for Invernizzi ranging from a recording of the oratorio La santissima trinità by Alessandro Scarlatti (issued by Virgin) made in 2003 to performances this year in Montpellier and Siena of La fede ne’ tradimenti by Attilio Ariosti. Ariosti is perhaps known more for his colourful life than for his music (a notably ’uncloistered’ monk he travelled the courts and cities of Europe before ending up in London as one of the “renowned triumvirate” of composers noted by Charles Burney; the other two being Bononcini and Handel). Invernizzi took the principal role in Ariosti’s opera, with its plot which focuses on medieval Spain. What did she make of it? “It was a wonderful experience! I had never sung any of Ariosti’s music before and it was a great discovery for me. I hope to sing more of Ariosti’s music sometime soon” And earlier this year that renowned ability to sing unknown repertory with style and elegance was called on in a production, directed by Kai Wessel in Cologne of Il Narciso by the yet even more remote compositional figure of Francesco Pistocchi.
The solo spotlight now shines on Roberta Invernizzi
To date, much of Roberta Invernizzi’s recording work has - however demanding of her as a singer - been in ensemble work (alert readers may remember her recitals of Donne barocche available on Naïve and Come away, come sweet love devoted to the music of John Dowland which appeared on Stradivarius). An exciting development is the preparation of new programmes which sees the soprano thrust definitely into the spotlight and performing in an integrated way with some of her long-standing collaborators.
Fabio Bonizzoni announces that this month he is embarking on what he hopes will be a new mini-series for Glossa which “focuses on Roberta as the complete soloist, our star singer, if you like, approaching famous and not so well-known arias by Vivaldi. In the famous arias her fans can just listen to her and compare her, if they wish, to other celebrated singers. But I hope this recording will have the interest not only of showing Roberta at her best as a great singer but we will be also be shedding some light on some lesser-known Vivaldi.”
Meanwhile, Antonio Florio has also become seduced by the muse in Roberta Invernizzi, for a further projected Glossa release. He comments, “I, together with two musicologists who have always been working with me - Dinko Fabris and Giulia Veneziano - have devised for her a rather special programme: the journey of the 18th century singer Faustina Bordoni to Naples and her return ten years later. In those years Faustina sang with the tessitura of a soprano (in the years following she would become a ’falcon’, opting for a lower tessitura). Here in Naples Faustina encountered the great Neapolitan musicians of the 18th century, Alessandro Scarlatti, Francesco Mancini, Domenico Sarro but above all Leonardo Vinci, for whom she would become his first and unforgettable interpreter.”
And to whet the appetite yet further, one waits to see what becomes on record for a new partnership involving Invernizzi and the Café Zimmerman ensemble led by Céline Frisch and Pablo Valetti, where Frisch reports that “we have been giving some concerts recently with Roberta with Handel arias and Bach Secular Cantatas”.
Beyond the Baroque
And, finally, lest it might be thought that the musical thoughts of Roberta Invernizzi dwell only in the Baroque, it is encouraging to note critical approval for her interpretation of some of Mozart’s concert arias, such as A questo seno … Or che il cielo, when she performed them with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. And in her schedule for this month she will be singing in the Opéra Royal in Versailles in a programme which includes more Mozart (from Idomeneo), and music from Grétry’s La caravane du Caire and Henri-Montan Berton’s Les deux sous-lieutenants...
by Mark Wiggins © 2011 Diverdi