La Virtuosissima Cantatrice: Virtuoso and Bel-Canto Masterpieces for Female Voice

Not only does this disc celebrate the female voice but also some largely forgotten female composers. Luzzaschi’s Madrigali a uno, due e tre soprani of 1601 represents the sole surviving publication of a unique and highly important repertoire; that of the much famed singing ladies (concerto delle donne) of Ferrara. By the 1580s the Duke of Ferrara, Alfonso II, had become so obsessed with the sound of soprano voices, that he was procuring the finest singers of the time and establishing them in his court for his musica secreta, or secret music. It is among the most vocally challenging music surviving, and attests to high quality of vocal training in the sixteenth century. It is something of a miracle that even one copy of the original publication survived.

In an age when singer/composers were relatively common, no single woman had as much of her music published as Barbara Strozzi. She led a remarkable life and one most unusual for a woman in Venice in 1619. Her father, poet Giulio Strozzi, was at the centre of the cultural and intellectual life in Venice and through him she was able to partake of that life. Between 1644 and 1664 Barbara Strozzi published 8 books of vocal music. By far the majority of this output is for solo soprano, but just how successful she was is unknown. After her final publication in 1664 nothing more is heard of her. As she wrote herself in the dedication to her opus 5: ”Since I am no more held back by feminine weakness than by any allowance made for my sex, I fly on lightest leaves in devotion to make my bow.”

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