05 January 2018

Catching Up With: Jessica Gould

Photo by Nathan Smith.

Soprano Jessica Gould sometimes projects a mournful quality with her voice (and more on that in a moment), but it’s been with great happiness that I’ve heard her again recently, both in concert, under the aegis of her Salon/Sanctuary organization; and on recording, with the recent release, I Viaggi di Caravaggio (The Travels of Caravaggio) [Cremona MVC 017 043]. Jessica is always up to something interesting, whether I write about her or not — and she has been busy.

The surprise of the recording isn’t its thought-provoking program of largely unfamiliar, deeply researched, thematically linked material. The surprise is that Jessica didn’t program it herself. Her performing partner, Diego Cantalupi, invited her to sing on the album, and he provides sensitive accompaniment on lute and theorbo, also having devised the program. Cantalupi identifies female models (mostly prostitutes) in Caravaggio’s paintings and associates them with music by the painter’s contemporaries or near-contemporaries. Many of these composers would have been familiar with Caravaggio’s better-known paintings, Cantalupi observes, so that it’s easy to imagine a connection between — for example — the painter’s Crown of Thorns and Benedetto Ferrari’s cantata Queste dolenti spine (These painful thorns).

Cantalupi has done a remarkable job of selecting music that sounds the way Caravaggio’s signature chiaroscuro looks, so striking that I still find it hard to believe that the painter didn’t invent electricity and spotlights. Even the choice of composers is illuminating, in the sense that I’d never heard of most of these fellows, though I’m delighted to hear them now. The delicacy of Cantalupi’s playing and Jessica’s melancholy singing create alternating waves of shimmer and shadow, to haunting effect. It’s a lovely album.

At New York’s Brotherhood Synagogue on November 16, Jessica offered a reprise of a program of her own devising, “From Ghetto to Capella,” in the company of several other musicians: Charles Weaver on theorbo, Loren Ludwig on viola da gamba, Elliot Figg on harpsichord, and the vibrant Italian mezzo Elena Biscuola. The selections explore what Jessica calls the “cross-fertilization between Jewish and Christian musical cultures” in Italy, primarily in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (with a couple of numbers from earlier and later periods), and the program proved full of surprises as number after number revealed Middle Eastern influences in harmonies, modalities, and even — to the delight of the audience — the melody of the “Hatikvah” in an air from Rossi’s time, “Fuggi, fuggi,” performed here as a duet.

“From Ghetto to Capella” allows Jessica and her friends to return to the music of Salamone Rossi, whose remarkable career as a Jew in the court of Mantua inspired an earlier program, “From Ghetto to Palazzo.” Two arias by Barbara Strozzi — a rare woman composer in the seventeenth century — afforded each singer a welcome showcase, with Jessica locating a startling combination of pleading and ecstasy in the final notes of “Salve Regina,” and Biscuola making an entire opera out of the lament “Lagrime mie.”

As ever, one walks out of a Salon/Sanctuary concert feeling not only enriched by beautiful music but also a bit smarter. When Jessica sings, you learn something.

“From Ghetto to Capella,” November 16, 2017.

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