Po-faced synopses conventionally skate over the fact that most plots in Baroque opera are preposterous, so it was refreshing to find Rick Jones starting his Wigmore Hall programme-note with a cod-historical account of the picaresque doings of Assyrian Queen Sammuramat in ninth-century BCE Babylon. And in the recital which the Italian mezzo Anna Bonitatibus has compiled – from which she’s also made a prize-winning disc – variations on the tale came from eleven 18th-century composers.
Bonitatibus has a voice which, once heard, is never forgotten. This has less to do with its specific qualities than with the vivid intensity with which she invests every role: she’s as boldly dramatic as Cecilia Bartoli, but with none of the affectation. For this outing, in company with Vaclav Luks and his Collegium 1704 Baroque orchestra, her gown-changes – from diaphanous grey, to scarlet, to black, to high-priestess white – reflected the variegated emotional worlds she conjured up.
Spurned love took many forms, each of which she incarnated with Protean ease: with fire and fury in Caldara, darkly flowing melodiousness in Gluck, roller-coaster coloratura in Bertoni, delicate refinement in Rossini, and chaste beauty in Paisiello. She was funny as well as furious, turning some of her numbers into a dance, and proving effortlessly that, when required, she could out-blast in volume the full 22-piece orchestra.