Handel’s Queens with Bridget Cunningham
Interview and photos by
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Renowned for her incredible sense and depth of perception, we met with conductor and harpsichordist Bridget Cunningham in London to discuss her inspirations and career path along with the recent recording of Handel’s Queens with London Early Opera.
...which is part of the fun – seeing something come alive from scratch from the original manuscripts, making orchestral parts and perhaps discovering something that has not been heard for 300 years."
Music itself is a saving grace of course and sustains and renews creative energy anytime of the day."
You’re constantly creating new and exciting projects, what daily practices do you do to keep yourself creatively energised?
Thank you, so thrilled that you like them! Prioritising and making lists, practicing, keeping healthy… grit and determination come into it too!
Being around likeminded people with a similar work ethic helps and London Early Opera are an incredible and inspiring band of musicians, singers and historians who work with energy and vitality. Music itself is a saving grace of course and sustains and renews creative energy anytime of the day.
Where did Handel’s Queens come from?
Handel’s Queens is the latest double album in our series of Handel recordings for Signum Records with London Early Opera. After researching the voice types of Handel’s original singers and recording albums including Handel in Italy covering Handel’s early sojourn and Handel at Vauxhall – which focuses on 18th century English repertoire, I decided to look more in depth at the repertoire of his original singers who he wrote specific arias for. From this we can learn a huge amount about their strengths and what these singers were capable of and prove the point, that like today, singers should not perhaps be stereotyped to only sing in a certain manner or style as more often than not, they can adapt to sing many different kinds of repertoire.
From my own research and akin to our modern day Royal Family – Diana and Fergie or Megan and Kate, Handel’s female singers were set up by the press to be seen as rivals. The eighteenth century London press issued misogynistic satirical pamphlets, images and articles inventing a story that Cuzzoni and Faustina fought on stage and clawed at each other’s wigs with fisticuffs. As this did not happen and it was normal on the continent for two leading female singers to perform together on stage as a pair of prime donne, I am hoping this album Handel’s Queens sets the record straight!
What drew you towards the soloists?
Initially I was looking for two technically competent and contrasting singers who could sing anything and not just a particular style in which Handel’s singers were often stereotypically associated with. Cuzzoni was linked to the older fashion of excelling in pathos-laden slower arias and Faustina was a paragon of the newer Allegro style, whereas in fact the repertoire clearly indicates that they could both sing a range of music.
On Handel’s Queens we have two phenomenal singers who can do just this – Lucy Crowe singing Cuzzoni’s arias and Mary Bevan singing Faustina’s roles. I have been fortunate to work with Mary, Sophie and Benjamin Bevan in my previous recordings and Lucy Crowe was keen to join us on this amazing journey.
What’s special about this recording?
Taste is of course very personal but I think Handel’s Queens is special as it mixes the more popular Handel with world premiere recordings of unknown works which I have found and edited and it displays finesse by pushing the sound world to its boundaries – for example we added a bass violin for a richer and deeper line and added baroque and Italianate ornamentation to showcase both the voices and instruments.
The 15 previously unrecorded tracks on this double album are exquisite and show off different aspects of the voice as well as span the whole careers of Cuzzoni and Faustina showing a development in music and composition as a whole across Europe in the 18th century. Also the extensive booklet notes set the scene summarising my own research putting the music in its correct historical context.
What’s next for you?
I am currently continuing this Handel recording series with Signum Records and am researching more baroque operas and making new editions.
Next up I am also continuing performances across Europe for the forthcoming season and am conducting a new String Festival in the UK focusing on Tartini and Beethoven. As I am continually busy finding new repertoire to conduct and perform, I am also seeking to work with an international agent to help me get further with concerts and operas in order to share this glorious music with people throughout the world and my passion for Handel!