Hallenberg is heard as Giuditta in Mozart’s rarely performed oratorio La Betulia Liberata; Piau in (as far as I know) her only performance as Cleopatra in Handel’s Giulio Cesare.

Betulia Liberata features Mozart’s only prominent role written for a female mezzo-soprano: Giuditta or Judith of “she chopped off Holofernes’s head” fame. The libretto for this azione sacra is by Pietro Metastasio and was set many other times before the young Mozart had at it in 1771.

Although I had first heard Hallenberg in Berlin in early 2002, it’s commonly held that her leap into international prominence began in February 2003 when she replaced Cecilia Bartoli at short notice in Handel’s Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno at the Zurich Opera. Today’s Mozart performance comes from later that year and might be Hallenberg’s first collaboration with Christophe Rousset with whom she’s done many projects, including her famous “Farinelli” tours.

I remain puzzled why PIau never sang Cleopatra beyond this Paris concert performance which followed by several months a stage production in Amsterdam with René Jacobs conducting the great Freiburger Barockorchester. Its cast was completely different from Paris, however, except for Lawrence Zazzo as Cesare. I don’t know of any other instances of Piau and Jacobs performing together. On the other hand, Ernman, Hämmarström and Dumaux all sang with Jacobs in Cesare at other times.

Piau has tended sing the secondary soprano role in several Handel operas: Dalinda rather than Ginevra in Ariodante and Atalanta instead of Romilda in Serse. She continues to perform Alcina’s Morgana though her performance of the title role (available on DVD) with Rousset is quite wonderful.

Mozart: La Betulia Liberata

Giuditta: Ann Hallenberg
Amital: Jaël Azzaretti
Cabri/Carmi: Ingela Bohlin
Ozia: John MacVeigh
Achior: João Fernandes

Les Talens Lyriques
Conductor: Christophe Rousset

Théâtre des Champs-Elysées
20 November 2003

Handel: Giulio Cesare

Cleopatra: Sandrine Piau
Cornelia: Kristina Hämmarström
Sesto: Malena Ernman
Cesare: Lawrence Zazzo
Tolomeo: Christophe Dumaux
Achilla: Nicolas Rivenq
Nireno: Andrew Radley
Curio: Andrew Davis

Freiburger Barockorchester
Conductor: René Jacobs

Salle Pleyel
14 June 2008

Both works can be downloaded by clicking on the icon of a cloud with an arrow pointing downward on the audio player above and the resulting mp3 file will appear in your download directory.

Come back next Tuesday for the final installment of Diva November.