The Théâtre des Champs-Élysées played host to a wonderful concert performance of Handel’s Rodelinda, with a stellar cast which included soprano Karina Gauvin, and the contraltos Sonia Prina and Delphine Galou. Alan Curtis was at the helm, directing the orchestra, Il Complesso Barocco.
From the moment Karina Gauvin sang her first note, she stamped her authority on the character of Rodelinda. Her potent attack in the aria “L’empio rigor” was ferocious indeed, yet she was capable of great tenderness also, as her light touch and exquisite phrasing in “Ombra piante” confirmed. Her technical skill and confident coloratura was evident in the demanding “Morrai, sì”, while Gauvin raged with the force of a Medea in the recitative where Rodelinda exhorts Grimoaldo to kill her son. In the following aria, “Spietati, lo vi giurai” Gauvin was on fire. The purity and solidity of tone in the high tessitura of “Ritorna, o caro” was beautiful to behold, while her “Se’l mio duol”, with its nods to “Se pietà” from Giulio Cesare, was utterly heartrending. Gauvin’s “Mio cara bene”, was truly joyous as she soared above the stave. Gauvin was indeed a memorable and powerful Rodelinda.
In a role which is so full of powerful arias, it was surprising to note that Sonia Prina’s Bertarido produced some of the tenderest performances I have ever heard from her. In the poignant “Dove sei”, Prina’s middle register was so light and pure it was almost as if we were listening to a lyric mezzo, instead of a contralto famed for revelling in her chest register, while “Con rauco mormorio” was devastatingly affecting. Prina returned to her fiery form with “Confusa sì miri” thundering through her lines with tremendous security in the lower register, while she effortlessly navigated the awkward lines of “Scacciata dal suo nido” which sit right across the contralto lower passagio. Prina’s vocal fireworks in “Se fiera belva ha cinto” threatened to upstage her astounding “Vivi Tiranno”, both of which saw her dive ferociously into the true contralto depths.
The duet “Io t’abbraccio” was truly magical, as Prina and Gauvin’s voices wove together to form a richly textured, intimate musical pattern: where Gauvin glided to the top of the stave, Prina countered by flowing to the bottom, achieving a synthesis of tone in the overlapping areas.
The velvety tones of mezzo Romina Basso and contralto Delphine Galou were heard in the roles of Eduige and Unulfo respectively. Basso’s rich middle register added a sultry sensuality to the traitorous Eduige. She excelled in the feisty “Lo farò dirò spietato”, her warm tone present throughout the range. “De’ miei scherni” saw Basso unleash her trademark speed, and her wonderful ornamentation. She also excels in dynamic variations, which she uses to great effect on long, unaccompanied notes in her cadenze. Her last aria was the vivacious “Quanto più fiera”, in which she seemed to enjoy herself a lot. Galou’s speed and lightness of touch, coupled with her dark timbre, make her voice perfect for the so-called “trouser” roles. She sped through her first aria, “Sono i culpi”, at breakneck speed, navigating confidently the low-lying coloratura. In “''Fra tempeste funeste” Galou sang one of the most beautiful lines in the opera, the phrase “foreira la calma già spunta una stella”, which was enriched by her exquisite mezza di voce on each of the tied notes.
Topi Lehtipuu’s Grimoaldo was a little off kilter after a mishap in the first aria, but he recovered to produce a lovely “Prigioniera hò l’alma”. While some of the arias seemed a little low for his beautiful, high and light lyric Tenor (which is superb for Vivaldi, in which he has proven success), his “Trà sospetti” was fabulous, with Lehtipuu dominating the aria. Matthew Brook gloried in his role as the scheming villain Garibaldo. “Di Cupido” was both menacing and entertaining, with Brook taking the high tessitura and difficult series of arpeggios in his stride. Particularly good was the extended phrase on the word “alletta”. For me, though, one of the highlights of the night was Brook’s maniacal “Tirannia”, sung with true evil triumph, and one of the best I have heard. Alan Curtis and Il Complesso Barocco did a great job, and thanks for the encore of the final ensemble, with Matthew Brook reduced to an “ornamental” role as his character was already dead by this point. It was a fantastic evening, and a lovely end to my Parisian holiday.
Paris' Salle Gaveau was packed to the rafters to greet German soprano Simone Kermes, as the "rock-chick" of the Baroque performed a selection of forgotten gems from her recently released album: Dramma.
Simone Kermes has a reputation for a sense of drama in her performances, so it was appropriate that she decided to perform several arias from her new album, Dramma. The album focused on works written for castrati such as Farinelli by composers such as Porpora, Hasse and Pergolesi. These arias were masterpieces of virtuosity in range, speed, dynamic control, or all three. Kermes, like Bartoli before her, has sought to bring these forgotten arias back into current musical awareness. Unlike Bartoli, however, Kermes has chosen arias where the tessitura is planted firmly in the soprano range.
Kermes’ first offering was the ebullient “Vedra turbato il mare” from Porpora’s Mitridate. As the orchestra, La Magnifica Comunità, started to play, a door mysteriously opened at the back of the hall, and Kermes, looking resplendent in one of her fantastic dresses, strode like a force of nature along the slips towards the stage, beguiling us from the onset with her magnificent stage-presence. Her ornamentation in the da capo was the same magnificent creation as heard on her album, leaping authoritatively into the stratosphere. Kermes followed this with a touching rendition of Porpora’s “Alto Giove,” where she demonstrated her superb high pianissimo. She followed the beautiful “Tace l’augello” almost immediately with the dynamic “Empi, se mai disciolgo” which she took so fast she seemed ready to take off! Her ability to blend in altissimo ornaments into the main vocal line will never fail to astound me.
Kermes’ began the second half of the concert with Leonardo Leo’s “Son qual nave in ria procella” which saw her leaping about in a set of dizzying vocal gymnastics, with a couple of delightful interpolated D6’s in the da capo. For Hasse’s “Consola il genitore”, Kermes was accompanied by Davide Pozzi on the harpsichord. She navigated the beautiful lines with exquisite tenderness, giving the lightest of touches to the demanding C6’s that make the piece so difficult to perform. The second Hasse piece of the evening was the fast and furious “Fra cento affanni e cento” which Kermes sailed through masterfully. The final aria came in the form of the tricky “Sul mio cor” from Pergolesi’s Adriano in Siria. Opening with a twice-repeated two octave descending line from A5 to A3, and containing some fiendishly fast coloratura, Kermes revelled in this firecracker of an aria. She even had us clapping in time with the beat during the introduction!
The accompaniment was provided by the wonderful La Magnifica Comunità, lead by Enrico Casazza.Opening the concert with the Overture from Porpora’s Agrippina, Casazza’s troupe played with vitality and a sense of exuberance matching that of Kermes. We were treated to two Vivaldi concertos, one in each half. The first was RV 277, Concerto in E min, which has an intense and atmospheric second movement for viola and three violins. The third movement was fierce, with some amazing form in the lower strings, particularly from Federico Bagnasco on the double bass. In RV 212, Concerto in D maj, Casazza himself astounded with his virtuosity on the violin, his fingers dancing across the board, moving almost up to the bridge in a series of broken chords: a truly stunning display.
Kermes gave five wonderful encores. The first was the A section of Broschi’s version of “Son qual nave” which she sped through magnificently. The second was a wonderful rendition of Edith Piaf’s “Non, je ne regrette rien” which was very warmly received. Kermes went back to the race-track with the A section of Vivaldi’s “Agitata da due venti” which had her leaping between her high soprano and her dark chest register (down to Ab3 at one point). She followed this with a beautiful rendition of Lili Marleen, and finished with a magnificent version of Handel’s “Lascia ch'io pianga”. At the end of this final aria, the lights went down, and we were left in momentary darkness. When they came back on, the whole hall got to its feet for a well deserved standing ovation.