The key to performing this type of aria is in the mastery of phrasing, emotional delivery, and careful emphasis of the text. Where the voice breaks away from the continuo, the singer must emphasise the deviation, and show a different colour and dynamic to the previous phrases. Just like the aria for Bass in Handel's Messiah, "The People that Walked in Darkness", the continuo and higher strings double the voice for the large part of the aria. It is a difficult aria to sing as the artist, for the most part, has to rely on the dramatic intensity of the voice alone to provide the dynamic needed to engage the listener, and the style affords no safe harbour for loss of tone, breath support, or a lack of emotional vivacity in the interpretation. The singer's technique and ability to convince emotionally is laid frighteningly bare. Ms Mijanovic, though, seems to have a natural ability to perform this type of aria.
In the ‘A’ section, the Serbian contralto dazzles with her technical skill, breath control and her large yet smooth vocal range. The speed of the aria demands a truly bravura performance, which she is able to give: Her accuracy in the fast, spikey 3/8 sequence is without doubt, and her control over the whole of her contralto range allays any fears of register crashing into the chest voice. This is important, as the second phrase of the ‘A’ section, "Piaghe, morte, strage, guerra," has a series of downward arpeggios of either a 5th or an octave: a musical device portraying a blow or a stab of a sword (the 6-note semiquaver ornaments prior to the octave arpeggios could be seen as a flourish of a sword before inflicting a wound). Ms Mijanovic is able here to give full force to these jumps, with her dark contralto able to attack the lowest notes with ease. In the case of higher voices, the lower note would either disappear or sound unnaturally harsh.
The first and third phrases, "Svena, uccidi, abbatti, atterra," and "sempre in vita incontrerò" respectively, employ a violent, stabbing rhythm, strongly emphasising the key syllables of each word – for instance "Sven, ci, bat, ter" - so that the force of the action described is imparted by the natural emphasis given to the first beat of each bar. This Ms Mijanovic performs perfectly, attacking each key syllable with a sforzando of measured yet aggressive force, without resorting to shouting or using a guttural “bark” for emphasis. In the final rendering of the 'A' section, Ms Mijanovic stays true to the score, without much in the way of ornamentation. This is not unusual in the case of such an aria, as to deviate from the continuo line would undo the power of the musical device. However she does interpolate both a low F and a high F in quick succession of each other in the final two cadences. Both notes are excellently produced, with good volume and resonance. Her ability to throw in the low F with such force and tone again confirms her status as a true contralto.
The aria then switches from a fast triple time (3/8), to a slower, double time (2/4) in the ‘B’ section. The 'B' section is structured very differently, relating as it does to a subtler emotional ensemble: Asteria's grief for her father, and her knowledge that she will soon follow after his "generous shade." The change in mood is matched by a corresponding change in composition: voice and continuo in harmony not unison; the vocal line more melodic and flowing. Ms Mijanovic’s greatest asset in this section is her understanding that “less is more.” Her simple, understated vocal line, and her excellently controlled and supported piano, coupled with intuitive phrasing, and a lack of excessive aspiration, all come together to produce a memorable interlude, full of pathos, but without histrionics. Almost prayer-like in quality, one hears the last entreaty of a woman ready for vengeance at any cost, including death, and galvinised towards her chosen path.
Ms Mijanovic does exceptionally well in the role of Asteria. Her understanding of the text and the emotional situation of her character are evinced in her intelligent and emotionally authentic performance. For me, she is a key interpreter of the role, and I would recommend the recording of the opera both for her performance, and those of the other artists (such as Ildebrando D’Arcangelo). As far as I am aware, at the time of writing, it is the only full recording of the opera.
The full aria text and translation are as follows:
"(A section) Svena, uccidi, abbatti, atterra. piaghe, morte, strage, guerra sempre in vita incontrerò. (B section) E tu padre, in me riposa, dietro, all'ombra generosa a momenti volerò."
"(A section) Drain me, kill me, raze me, fell me. Wounds, death, massacres and war always shall I meet throughout my life. (B section) And you, Father, rest in me, very soon I shall follow after your generous shade."