Isabel Bayrakdarian’s latest CD is rather odd. The material is obscure. It’s all taken from 18th century operas about the Armenian king Tigranes and his daughter Cleopatra. The plots are basically the same. Tigranes wants Cleopatra to make a marriage of state but she is in love with Tigranes’ enemy Mithridates. The outcomes are predictable. Apparently, these operas are Bayrakdarian’s academic specialty and she has chosen excerpts from Cleopatra’s part in versions by Hasse, Vivaldi and Gluck.
Rival Queens is a collaboration between Tafelmusik and Isabel Bayrakdarian showcasing music written for Faustina Bordoni and Francesca Cuzzoni; star divas of the 18th century who fought out a bitter rivalry on stage in London in 1726-28. The great composers of the sage, most notably Handel, all composed for them and wrote works that brought out their respective, and quite contrasted, strengths.
In the first half of the program Bayrakdarian focused on works for Bordoni. There were arias from Handel’s Alessandro (one of the works both divas performed in), Bononcini’s Astianatte and Hasse’s Cajo Fabricio. These are pieces requiring extremely secure technique. They lie fairly low in the soprano range (maybe modern mezzo territory) but have long, long, intricate coloratura runs which Bayrakdarian navigated with apparent ease. The arias were rounded out with orchestral pieces by Handel and Zelenka.