Wonder Women

L’Arpeggiata, Christina Pluhar
  1. TRADITIONAL - La Bruja
  2. BARBARA STROZZI - Che si può fare
  3. TRADITIONAL - La Llorona
  4. ISABELLA LEONARDA - Nive puer
  5. TRADITIONAL - La Canzone di Cecilia
  6. TRADITIONAL - La Lloroncita
  7. ANONYMOUS - Jácara : No Hay Que Decirle el Primor
  8. MAURIZIO CAZZATI - La Strozza
  9. ANTONIA BEMBO - Abbi pietà di me
  10. FRANCESCA CACCINI - Così perfida Alcina
  11. ANDREA FALCONIERI - La Benedetta
  12. BARBARA STROZZI - L’amante consolato
  13. FRANCESCA CAMPANA - È già rotto lo strale
  14. BARBARA STROZZI - L’amante segreto
  15. MAURIZIO CAZZATI - Capriccio sopra sette note
  16. FRANCESCA CACCINI - Lasciatemi qui solo


Christina Pluhar leads her ensemble L’Arpeggiata in the multi-faceted Wonder Women.  The culture-crossing album pays special homage to Italian female composers of the 17th century (notably Barbara Strozzi und Francesca Caccini), but also to women of character as portrayed in the traditional music of Italy and Latin America: heroines, saints, witches, supernatural figures and mere mortals. Joining Pluhar and the instrumentalists of L’Arpeggiata are four guest singers – soprano Céline Scheen, mezzo-sopranos Luciana Mancini and Benedetta Mazzucato, and alto Vincenzo Capezzuto.

As Christina Plular explains: “On the one hand, Wonder Women is a tribute to all those wonderful female composers of the 17th century. At the same time, it celebrates all talented female musicians of all eras, who for centuries had to hide their talent behind their husband’s or abandon their careers prematurely … We found further inspiration in traditional South American and Italian music and sing songs about extraordinary, strong, courageous women, but also about sorrowful ones.”

Setting the tone for the 16 vocal and instrumental tracks on the album is its opening number, the Mexican song ‘La Bruja’ – ‘The Witch’. “Originally in Mexico, any woman who refused to obey the rules of society –who didn’t behave in the way people expected her to, and wanted to live life on her own terms – was called a bruja,” continues Pluhar, “So for us, this song symbolises the freedom of all women in all cultures and historical periods.”

The players of L'Arpeggiata have been praised by the New York Times for “an astounding level of virtuosity … and the sheer joy and spontaneity with which they apply it to improvisation and ornamentation.” As the reviewer continued: “These performers seem to work in a constant state of musical and spiritual exhilaration, which is blessedly infectious … with great imagination, taste and spontaneity … Listen with an open mind and be swept away.”

Alessio Ruffatti, a professor at the Conservatory of Padua, sets the historical and musicological context for Wonder Women:

“Literary works in the Baroque era were dominated by female characters, with myriad stories of enchantresses, seductresses and valiant female warriors and crusaders. This 17th-century vision was shaped by the strong and daring women described by the Classical poets, and probably influenced by the large number of female rulers in the period, who gave their patronage to some extremely talented woman composers ….

“Francesca Caccini [born in Florence in 1587] is the best-known woman composer of the age. Her father, the renowned musician and theorist Giulio Caccini, involved her and her sister Settimia in his first operas at the Florentine court when they were still very young …”  Caccini became a celebrated performer and composer – the most highly-paid composer at the Florentine court in the early 17th century – and her output included a number of prominent stage works.

Barbara Strozzi (1619–1677), as Ruffatti explains, was “a musician active in Venice in the mid-17th century … She studied under Francesco Cavalli and sang in aristocratic circles … Her starring role as a musician in the academies of Venice stirred accusations of prostitution, with one satirical manuscript labelling her a ‘courtesan’. Barbara and [her adoptive musician father] Giulio Strozzi vigorously fought these claims, which were never backed up by any other evidence. Although her activity coincided with the early development of opera, it appears she stayed away from the genre. Beyond her rich musical life, Barbara raised four children [as a single mother] … She was a prolific and highly successful composer. Various documents show that not only was she financially independent, she also looked after her destitute adoptive father Giulio in her home, and is known to have lent money to her father, children and many other people.”

Wonder Women also features the music of another student of Francesco Cavalli, the Venetian Antonia Bembo, and of the nun Isabella Leonarda (from Novara in Piedmont). Two male composers, Maurizio Cazzati and Andrea Falconieri, find a place on the album too.

“The depiction of women in the early modern period was influenced by the poetry of Ovid and the models of elegiac poetry,” continues Alessio Ruffati.  “In both the Heroides [a collection of poems by Ovid,  written in the voices of Classical heroines] and the lyrics of 17th-century music, women were the star of the show, while the male theatrical characters were … subjected to the women’s will. This elegiac dynamic, which inverts the gender roles of epic poetry and tragedy, was a popular narrative technique in 16th-century chivalric verse, and the same relationship was employed in the opera librettos and vocal chamber music of the two subsequent centuries.”

Summing up the message of Wonder Women, Christina Pluhar writes: “True equality is still far from being achieved. From a global perspective, forced marriage, bans on education and violence against women are sadly far from being a thing of the past. The battle for equality is still ongoing and hasn’t been won by a long chalk … Please join us in celebrating all aspects of womanhood, and women with all their talents.”

Wonder Women • Wonder Women • Wonder Women • Wonder Women •

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