Anna Bonitatibus, Wigmore Hall, London, review: ‘She could out-blast in volume the full 22-piece orchestra’

The Italian mezzo is joined by Vaclav Luks and his Collegium 1704 Baroque orchestra

Anna Bonitatibus performed with great intensity at Wigmore Hall
Anna Bonitatibus performed with great intensity at Wigmore Hall

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.

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