What is a seconda donna, you ask?
In Handel operas, the seconda donna is often the friend/confidante/sister/whatever of the prima donna/leading lady/star. She generally is in love with some guy who is unavailable (i.e. he is together with someone else or in love with the prima donna) or a bad guy who ends up screwing her over.
Usually she gets herself wrapped up in some craziness behind the scenes involving a forged letter, a crazy disguise, a shady set-up, or some other fiasco that gets the plot going. She is one of the strongest driving forces of the opera and instigates much of the action that affects the primary characters, who tend to be either in a state of extreme bliss or extreme anguish while the second donna is behind the scenes dealing with her crappy love life and the shit hitting the fan.
Her arias are generally more lightly orchestrated than the prima donna's. No brass or any of that craziness, which makes for a more budget friendly concert;)
How did the "Seconda Donna Handel Arias" compilation come to be?
I recorded these pieces live in front of an audience (we called it a "Handel Jam Session") at the Gershwin Hotel in New York City with the operamission Handel Band, led by Jennifer Peterson (harpsichord) with Joan Plana and Tatiana Daubek (baroque violin), Audrey Selph (baroque viola), and on continuo, Beiliang Zhu (baroque cello). After singing the role of Dalinda in Ariodante, I decided to explore other seconda donna characters in Handel operas and totally fell in love with their personal journeys in each opera, as well as their music. I made this recording as my demo for the Naxos/Early Music America Recording Competition. Who knows what will happen with all of that, but I'm excited to put some of these gems out into the world for people to discover and enjoy.
Which seconda donnas will you be hearing from on this recording?
Dalinda in Ariodante-princess Ginevra's bff. Ginevra and Ariodante are in love and about to get married and it's all good. Ginevra's brother loves Dalinda but she thinks he's boring. A duke named Polinesso comes along and wants Ginevra for himself so he can gain power, but Ginevra is not having it. So Polinesso tells Dalinda, who has a huge crush on him, that he will marry her. But "oh yeah, before we get married, let's play a trick on Ariodante, how about you dress up as your best friend and pretend to be her going into my house." Dalinda's like, "sounds questionable, but yeah, ok!" Ariodante sees this go down and decides to go kill himself. Everyone starts calling Ginevra a whore, even her dad. The shit hits the fan. As soon as Polinesso uses Dalinda, he hires assassins to have her killed and they chase her through a scary forest. She is rescued by Ariodante, who is not dead after all. Dalinda apologizes and everyone's like "that's ok!" Everyone gets to marry someone.
Aria: Neghittosi or voi che fate? (track 1)
"You repay my love by trying to kill me? Loving you too much was a big mistake. You are are wicked, ungrateful, evil, and a villainous bastard who slaughters and betrays me."
Eurilla from Il Pastor Fido-she's the prima donna Amarilli's bff. She loves a shepherd named Mirtillo but he loves Amarilli, who is engaged to Silvio, a hunter. Amarilli and Mirtillo love each other, but can't be together since Amarilli's a descendent of the gods and Mirtillo's not-damn! Eurilla forges a letter to get Mirtillo and Amarilli caught meeting together in a cave, and when they ARE caught, Amarilli gets sentenced to death. The shit hits the fan. Later on we find out, oh, just kidding, Mirtillo actually IS a descendent of the gods, so he can be with Amarilli after all. They end up together. Silvio accidentally shoots some chick in the forest with an arrow and falls for her. Eurilla ends up alone.
Aria: Occhi Belli (track 2)
"Beautiful eyes, you are like dear stars in my heart."
Dorinda from Orlando-Dorinda's a shepherdess who loves Medoro, an African prince. But he's already into the prima donna, Angelica. Too bad Orlando (a knight) is into Angelica too! Angelica and Medoro give Dorinda a jewel (a gift Orlando had previously given Angelica) as a consolation prize to get her to leave them the hell alone. Dorinda is not having it. She tells Orlando what's going on in an effort to break them up and have Medoro for herself. Orlando freaks out and wants to kill Medoro. The shit hits the fan. Luckily a magician comes along and fixes everything.
Aria: Amor é qual vento (track 3)
"Love is like the wind. One second it's joyful and the next second it's painful. It makes your head crazy. Just when you are in bliss, jealous fears cause unhappiness and you become crazy and enraged."
Aria: Ho un Certo Rossore (track 4)
"I know what you mean about love-it makes me feel joy, torment, heat, freezing cold….it makes me….I don't know…it makes me blush!"
Aria: Se mi rivolgo al prato (track 7)
"Though he turns from me, I see my beloved Medoro in every flower and murmur my love for him everywhere like a gentle stream"
Nerea from Deidamia-Deidamia's bff. Deidamia is together with Achilles and afraid he'll die in Troy. Deidamia's always asking Nerea to spy and keep an eye on people and deliver news to her. Lots of war and taking of other loves goes down, typical greek gods war story. Nerea has been on and off with Fenice, who wins her over in the end with sweetness, art, and flattery rather than by being a macho war hero.
Aria: Quanto ingannata é quella (track 5)
"It's sad when a pretty girl is deceived, but love-at-first-sight will always work out in the end."
Aria: Non Vuó perdere l'istante (track 9)
"With a lover I can't trust, he won't prove his fidelity. If my desire makes you a man, your manliness and love will make me a woman."
Clizia from Teseo-she's Agilea's bff and loves a guy named Arcane who's always jealous for no reason. In this opera most of the drama is caused by a crazy sorcerous named Medea who keeps saying she's going to kill Teseo but then changing her mind, so the seconda donna is off the hook as far as causing the shit to hit the fan in this one. She mostly is just trying to work things out with Arcane.
Aria: Ti credo, si, ben mio (track 6)
"I believe that you love me, but I'm afraid of deceit and don't trust you entirely. If you sing desire for others, how would you make it up to me?"
Bellante in Almira-she loves Osman, a military commander, but he is totally n/a, since a.) he loves a princess names Edilia, and b.)he is supposed to marry Almira. Double problem. Bellante hosts a party where all the characters get jealous of everyone else. The shit hits the fan. But, against all odds, she actually gets Osman in the end and the prima donna marries her dead dad's secretary.
Aria: Chi sá, mia spema (track 8)
"Who is my hope? After clouds of sorrow, a more serene sky appears as I radiate with love for you."
Aria: Der Mund spricht zwar (track 10)
"The mouth says very strongly, "no", but my heart says freely "yes." Your eyes are luminous. I am much too close to you."
Recit: Ja, Amor deine Grausamkeit (track 11)...Aria: Blinder Schütz (track 12)
"Yes, love, you must rescue my heart from this cruelty. If you try to cool the flames within me with Julep, it will be in vain. I am burning with pleasure for Osman, but on the other hand, cold with hatred that I cannot have him. Protect me from being wounded by this arrow. No mortal ever becomes healed from such a wound, so what is the point of getting hurt?"
Atalanta in Serse-she is the sister of the prima donna, Romilda. She loves Xerxes' brother, Arsamene, but he already loves Romilda. She hatches a plot with one of the servants to get Arsamene convinced that Romilda loves his brother more so that he will go for her instead. The shit hits the fan. Xerxes threatens to kill his own brother after he finds out he kissed Romilda. Meanwhile, xerxes' ex is running around disguised as a man and spying on him (I know, I know!) Xerxes almost kills her thinking she's his brother (um, what?) but when she reveals herself, he's like, oh "I'm sorry, I can't believe I was about to kill my brother and then I find out it's woman who is my ex, how terrible of me!" and she's like "that's ok!" and they get back together.
Aria: Voi me dite che non l'ami (track 13)
"You have not told me that you love me…but you have not told me that it's not possible!"