STROZZI: Cantate, arietta e duetti, Op. 2: No. 14. L’Amante segreto; No. 18. La Riamata da chi amava. Cantate e Ariette, Op. 3: Moralità amorosa. Sacri musicali affetti, Op. 5: O Maria. Ariette a voce sola, Op. 6: No. 4. Parla alli suoi pensieri; No. 8. Non vuole amar più. Diporti di Euterpe, Op. 7: Lagrime mie; Sino alla morte. Arie a voce sola di diversi auttori: Havete torto. Che si può fare, Op. 8 / Renata Dubinskaitė, mezzo; Canto Fiorito / Brilliant Classics BRI96436
Most lovers of early music know who Barbara Strozzi was, but I think that for the majority of those who admire Monteverdi, her name does not resound nearly as much. And yet she was the most prolific composer of the 17th century, writing—and publishing—eight volumes of her own music, the greatest amount by any 17th-century composer, and doing so without any help or patronage from the Church or the nobility. In part this was due to her birth father, Giulio Strozzi, a member of the Accademia degli Incogniti, one of the largest and most prestigious intellectual academies in Europe and a major political and social force in the Republic of Venice and beyond. Her mother was one of Strozzi’s servants, but when he recognized genius in Barbara at an early age he adopted her as his legitimate daughter and worked hard to promote her career.
Lithuanian mezzo-soprano Renata Dubinskaitė, happily, has a rich, firm, glowing voice and excellent diction. She also possesses interpretive qualities when the music calls for it. For the uninitiated, Strozzi’s music was marked by mood, tempo and harmonic shifts within her songs, which makes them still interesting to the modern listener. Very little in her music is routine or predictable; she followed her own muse and wrote what she liked in the style she liked. Her father arranged for her to take lessons with Francesco Cavalli, who at that time was probably second only to Monteverdi as one of the greatest Italian composers of the era, thus young Barbara had first-class grounding in the basics of music.
Listening to the full cantata L’Amante segreto, it’s obvious that Strozzi had an enormous influence on Italian opera of a century later. Everything is there: the alternation of lyrical and dramatic moments, sudden outburst of passion, then the equally sudden retreat to quieter, more lyrical passages. But Strozzi was not only first, she was often more original than her later Italian (and German) imitators. There are no pauses between recitative, aria and dramatic passages, but a continuous flow from start to finish. I would even go so far as to say that, with modifications based on later changes in music, she also had an impact, albeit indirectly, on such later Italian composers as Giovanni Pacini and Giuseppe Verdi. That’s how good her music was, and how striking original.
As the recital progresses, in fact, one becomes not only more aware of the extraordinarily wide range of Strozzi’s musical and dramatic gifts but of the extraordinary qualities of Dubinskaitė’s voice. In addition to her excellent range, vocal placement, and ability to sing fioratura as well as those peculiar one-note Baroque trills (what was called, at the time, “spotted flute technique”), she can also color her tones to some extent, an art that I thought was lost in our modern era. She is clearly a master singer and one who I will be on the lookout for in the future. And happily her backup group, Canto Fiorito, is not as annoyingly whiny as so many modern-day HIP groups are, although only the harpsichordist really seems to play with emotional passion when called for.
This is a superb album of Strozzi’s music. If you’re already familiar with her, you need to get it, and if you aren’t, you really need to hear it.
—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley
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