Opera Settecento’s first production left no doubt that this young Opera Company will make its mark on the Baroque music scene in the years to come.
Opera Settecento burst onto the Baroque music scene with a concert production of Vivaldi’s Griselda at Cadogan Hall. Drawing on internationally renowned singers such as Contralto Hilary Summers and Countertenor Andrew Watts, as well as promoting up-and-coming new talent, Opera Settecento’s resurrect the “unjustly neglected ‘opera seria’ scores from the 18th century” which reside in the vaults of libraries and archives all over Europe. The company is lead by is led by its Musical Director, Thomas Foster.
The incomparable contralto Hilary Summers delivered the title role of Griselda with arresting stage presence. Her characterisation was underpinned by a precise understanding of the libretto, and a willingness to bring a steely determination to the role. Summers’ rich contralto was a striking contrast to the four higher voices, at times even challenging Ronan Busfield’s lyric tenor for strength in the lower registers. Particularly impressive was the fiery “Ho il cor già lacero” which Summers delivered with total security and with astounding force. Given the role was created by Vivaldi’s protégé, the contralto Anna Girò, it was wonderful to see a true contralto in the cast for once.
The revelation of the evening was the soprano Erica Eloff, who excelled in the en travesti role of Ottone. The role is a difficult one to cast, as its range of over two octaves from G3, its awkward, athletic jumps between head and chest registers, and its tessitura, create palpable challenges for sopranos, mezzos and countertenors (though David Hansen performed this role masterfully in Pinchgut Opera’s recent production).
Eloff had no such troubles with the technicalities of the role, unleashing a few incredible stratospheric pieces of ornamentation. Her control, and use, of the full dynamic spectrum, with some incredible pianissimo notes left the audience in no doubt of her technical capabilities. She was also a fantastic actress as well, crafting a cleverly nuanced Ottone with dashes of humour. The key aria for the role is, of course, “Dopo un'orrida procella” and Eloff executed this devilish arias with the air of someone who rolls off arias like that as a warm-up exercise. Eloff delivered an exhilarating performance, and she is definitely someone to watch in the future.
Ronan Busfield took on the role of Gualtiero, Griselda’s husband. His first aria was one of Vivaldi’s nightmare tenor coloratura arias, which Busfield heroically delivered, committing himself totally from the onset. In his final aria, Busfield interpolated a magnificent octave-and-a-half leap from chest to head registers. His voice was an excellent choice for the often low-lying tessitura of the role. Kiandra Howarth performed a mighty “Agitata da due venti”, while countertenor Andrew Watts often threatened to steal the show as Roberto. The second countertenor of the even was Tom Verney in the role of Corrado.
Thomas Foster, directing from the Harpsichord, lead his orchestra, playing on period instruments, with style and flair, breathing life into the work, and giving the long passages of recitative a dynamism which helped the audience to engage with the drama of the plot. His tempo choices were always tasteful, and Foster resisted following the current trend of replacing every tempo marking with prestissimo!
Oper Frankfurt more than justified it's Opera Company of the Year Award for 2013 with a spellbinding production of Strauss' Daphne.
Oper Frankfurt's production of Strauss' sublime Opera, Daphne, was set amid the faded grandeur of a palatial semi-ruin. Grass growing on the steps and in the doorways, floors were warped and discoloured, windows blurred with decades of grime. The story of Daphne’s loss of innocence was being told, not through the eyes of the protagonist, but through those of the protagonists’ older self, who wandered from room to dilapidated room, remembering the events of more than half a century before. It ended, as it began, with the figure of the older Daphne alone on stage, this time tremulously climbing the stairs to leave the house, pausing to look back one last time. It was a truly affecting image, and one which, defined, I think, this interpretation of both Strauss’ music, and the myth itself.
This interpretation dealt with the eternally problematic question arising from trying to stage this opera: how to portray Daphne’s metamorphosis into a laurel tree. As with Niobe’s transformation into a statue, this is a most difficult process to represent effectively on stage. It was a stroke of genius on the part of Oper Frankfurt’s to dispense with this altogether, instead giving us the transformation of young Daphne into old Daphne, thus bringing the audience out of the dream-like reverie of Strauss’ music, and into the present, and left to wonder just what effect the experience had on Daphne, and with what emotion she moves forward into the later stages of her life.
Maria Bengtsson’s Daphne was incredibly moving, generous in sound without resorting to hardness at the extremes of the range, and still possessing the youthfulness of tone which characterises the role. Her acting was of the same quality as her singing: easy, never forced, and beautifully crafted. For me the most beautiful scene is that between Daphne and her mother, Gaea. In this scene, Strauss created the lowest lying contralto role in the operatic repertoire, frequently below the stave, reaching Eb3 at its nadir. Tanja Ariane Baumgartner brought both empathy and dignity to the role: her beautiful, warm, and mesmerising tone captivating the audience from her very first phrase.
The two tenor roles were taken by Daniel Behle (Leukippos) and Peter Marsh (Apollo). Behle’s Leukippos was something of a revelation. His ardent portrayal was both arresting and poignant, with remarkable security throughout the range. His powerful dramatic tenor sound filled the auditorium without ever hardening or becoming strident. Marsh navigated Apollo’s punishing tessitura heroically, never faltering or straining. Both tenors were convincing actors, fully in character and engagingly natural in both phrasing and gesture. Mention must also be made of Michael Porter’s beautiful lyric tenor voice in the supporting role of 2nd Shepherd, and the wonderful acting of Corinna Schnabel in the silent role of Old Daphne.
In the majestic setting of the Freemasons’ Hall in Trondheim, David Hansen and TSO Tidlig, the Early Music Section of the Trondheim Symfoniorkester, brought the music of the Baroque alive, in a concert that was one of the highlights of the Barokkfest Early Music Festival.
The arias performed by David Hansen were taken from his critically acclaimed debut solo album, Rivals: Arias for Farinelli & Co., and centred on the work of the composer Leonardo Vinci, while the orchestral movements came exclusively from Handel.
This concert marked the first time I had heard Hansen perform live. It was immediately apparent that his excellent vocal technique, remarkable high register, and rich mid-range were no mere creation of the recording studio. Hansen's voice is a remarkable instrument, capable of amazing flexibility, tenderness, and power in equal measure.
In “Taci o di morte” from Il medo, Hansen impressed with his superb breath control, taking the tension of the music right through the line and continuing into the following phrase. At the end of the B section, Hansen sang in a warm Baritone during an ornament which took him almost an octave below the staff.
From the opening blasts of the horns, the fireworks of “Risveglia do sdegno” from Alessandro had the audience in awe. Hansen’s voice coruscated across the mighty range of the aria, displaying remarkable strength during the coloratura passages in the lower-middle area of his voice.
In contrast, the opening phrase from “Sento due fiamme in petto” from Il Medo gipped the audience with its haunting simplicity. When Hansen returned to the phrase in the da capo, he rose gently, tenderly up the octave, tantalisingly leaning on the leading note, before concluding with a beautiful pianissimo which floated across the audience.
All the musicians came out on stage for the stunning “In bracco a mille furie” from Semiramide riconosciuta. One of the most impressive things about Hansen is his ability to throw out a floating high-soprano note in the middle of a coloratura run, which he did throughout the aria. In fact the ease with which he performs the plethora of A5’s and B5’s is staggering.
The encore came in the form of Leonardo Leo’s “Talor che irato è il vento” from Andromaca. The bravura aria was the perfect way to finish, allowing Hansen to revel in the huge leaps and athletic runs which are trademark Leo. The B5 at the end of the aria was magnificent: full and strong, without being shrill.
The orchestral offerings began with the Overture and Minuet from Handel’s Concerto Grosso op 6 no 5. Walter Reiter led TSO Tidlig in a majestic performance of the Overture, full of the requisite pomp and ceremony. The Air in D minor was both enchanting and melancholy, but it was the Concerto Grosso op 6 no 4 which for really blew me away.
Reiter’s interpretation of the 1st movement drew out the tenderness of Handel’s composition, while the Allegro was dynamic and exciting. Special mention must go to Jaroslav Havel on ‘cello for managing Handel’s difficult part-writing, where the cello doubles the Viola and the Continuo in quick succession, and to Nils Bergaust who produced a potent and vigorous sound on the Double Bass.
This marvellous and exciting concert is one of the offerings in the Trondheim Barokkfest, a yearly occurrence which seeks to bring Early music to the area. This concert series will, hopefully, become a fixture on the Early Music circuit, and draw many other stars like Hansen to this fantastic city.
Contralto, Sonia Prina returned to the Wigmore Hall after her phenomenal debut to perform arias composed by G. F. Handel for the star castrato Senesino. Handel wrote many heroic roles for Senesino, a man noted for his fiery temperament, each playing to the castrato’s wonderfully rich lower register and to his ability to sing “allegros with great fire, and marked rapid divisions, from the chest, in an articulate and pleasing manner”. Sonia Prina’s amazing technique, and her willingness to explore the lower register of the contralto voice, made her performance a unanimous success: she is truly the Heir to Senesino!
Prina chose three intense yet emotionally diverse slow arias in the program. In the first, “Ombra cara” from Radamisto, Prina wove a tale of loss and revenge, her dark voice full of despair and wretched vengeance. In “Pompe vane… Dove sei” from Rodelinda, Prina’s astounding breath control and rich tone imbued the aria with a deep sense of longing.
The hypnotic orchestration of “Cara sposa” from Rinaldo, was chillingly delivered by Luca Pianca's Ensemble Claudiana, solidly underpinning Prina’s emotionally devastating delivery. The contrast between the tempi of the A and B sections worked very well, demonstrating the conflicting emotions of the aria.
Of the five bravura arias which made up the majority of the program, and the whole of the encores, I must make special mention of the first, “Furibondo spira il vento” from Partenope. Prina’s technique and delivery of the rapid coloratura passages electrified the audience. It was the best performance of this aria I have heard.
“Empio, dirò, tu sei” from Giulio Cesare, which was performed both in the first half of the recital, and as the final encore, was truly furious. Prina strutted about the stage, dominating the aria from beginning to end. Her G3 at the end of the B section, and the F3 at the end of the da capo, were utterly brilliant.
Bertarido’s “Vivi Tiranno” from Rodelinda saw Prina in triumphant form, revelling in Handel’s superb composition, while “Venti Turbini” from Rinaldo saw her deliver the longs lines of semiquavers with frightening assurance. “Se fiera belva ha cinto” from Rodelinda was a much jollier affair, with Prina and Ensemble Claudiana having a great deal of fun in its performance.
The highlight of the concert was the tremendous performance of the two pieces from Orlando: “Cielo! se tu il consenti” and “Ah Stigie larve”. In the first aria, Prina took the triplet phrases at blistering speed, while her characterisation in the second, the Mad scene from Orlando, was so authentic and riveting that it elicited a roar of approval from the audience.
The orchestral offerings from Ensemble Claudiana came mainly from Theodora: the Overture, the Larghetto and the Courante. In a change from the program, we were treated to Handel’s Passacaglia Op. 5, Mvt. 4. Each was performed with skill and intelligence, the small ensemble able to tease new meaning out of the familiar pieces. From start to finish the Ensemble, with Luca Pianca at the helm, performed magnificently, their intelligent craftsmanship and nuanced performance both supporting and complementing Prina's Olympian performance.
© James Edward Hughes 2014
Franco Fagioli and Il Pomo d’Oro took the Salle Gaveau by storm with a program based on their award winning album Arias for Caffarelli (Naïve).
Fagioli’s first offering was “Passaggier che sulla sponda” from Porpora’s Semiramide riconosciuta. Moving effortlessly between soprano-tessitura falsetto and the modal voice, the Argentinian countertenor immediately impressed with scope of his range, and the willingness to bring out the lower passages by audaciously yet tastefully employing the full chest voice.
Fagioli’s excellent, well supported, and soaring legato was evident in Hasse’s “Ebbi da te la vita” from Siroe rè di Persia. In “Misero pargoletto” from Leo’s Demofoonte, Fagioli built and sustained the tension of the piece using understated dynamics and excellent breath control. In this, more than any other aria, the similarity with Bartoli was most evident.
The first half of the concert ended as it began with Semiramide riconosciuta, this time Vinci’s version. “In braccio a mille furie” is a sensational tour de force for both singer and orchestra: fast, furious, and relentless. Fagioli relished the demands of the piece, discharging A5’s and B5’s with unnerving ease. Herbert Walser and Andreas Lakner were superb in the brass accompaniment, and Riccardo Coelati on Double Bass did a fantastic job of impersonating the missing Timpani.
It always astounds me that one can recognise the power and intensity of Pergolesi from just the first few bars of an aria. Fagioli was mesmerising in the nearly 12-minute-long “Lieto così talvolta” from Pergolesi’s Adriano in Siria. The interaction with Riccardo Minasi on the violin (standing in for the Oboe) was sumptuous and seductive.
“Fra l’orror della tempesta” from Hasse’s Siroe rè di Persia is possibly one of the most stunning Baroque arias ever written. The piece is a virtuosic fanfare of vocal fireworks. Fagioli’s superior technique shines through with several exposed notes above the stave, drops into the modal voice, and many phrases running across the lower-middle falsetto voice all perfectly executed.
Fagioli ended the concert with the electric “Odo il suono di traomba guerriera” from Manna’s Lucio Papirio dittatore. Just one note away from a full three octaves, Fagioli pushes his range to the limit! His fully supported dive into the baritone register with a wonderful E3, his almost endless trill, and a blistering D6 all came together to earn him a rapturous applause.
As encores, Fagioli gave “Sperai vicino il lido” from Leonardo Leo’s Demofoonte, and “Un cor che ben ama” by Sarro. In the former, Fagioli alternates between languid phases and coruscating coloratura. The latter contains some fiendish writing for the trumpet. Fagioli sprinted through the sea of semiquavers with complete security, astounding given all he had already sung that evening. Between the two, it was announced that the CD Arias for Caffarelli (Naïve) had been awarded a 'Choc de l'Année' from Classica magazine!
The accompaniment from Il Pomo d’Oro was excellent, as I have come to expect. We were treated to theSinfonia from Sarro’s Demofoonte, Avitrano’s Sonata in D major, the Sonata in G min by Ragazzi, and the Introduzione from Il Ciro riconosciuto. Special mention must go to Riccardo Minasi for his excellent direction and fabulous violin playing.
© James Edward Hughes 2013
From the Nikolaisaal in the heart of Potsdam, Germany, we were treated to a fantastic concert with two giants of the Baroque music world: coloratura soprano Simone Kermes and contralto Sonia Prina.
The music focused on Handel and some of his rival composers: Porpora, Vivaldi, Pergolesi, and a fiery aria from Gluck. With a combined range of over three octaves (E6 from Kermes, and D3 from Prina) the evening was a virtuosic extravaganza: a truly memorable occasion.
We were presented with a delightful pair of slow, pensive arias. Sonia Prina’s hypnotic delivery of Vivaldi’s magnificent “Là, sull'eterna sponda” was the first aria of the evening. The superb phrasing and tender delivery captivated the Potsdam audience, while her cavernous G3 in the da capo rang out gloriously throughout the hall. Simone Kermes tantalised us with the beautiful “Alto Giove” by Porpora. She began with a tender messa di voce on the first vowel, which she swelled and diminished with admirable control, and her high pianissimo in the da capo was haunting.
Each of the soloists had three bravura arias. Sonia Prina’s first offering was “Quel vasto quel fiero” from Porpora’s Polifemo, where her speed and agility were highly impressive. Prina utterly dominated the fierce “Se fedele mi brama” from Gluck’s Ezio. She revelled in the low tessitura of the piece, the passages below the stave full of strength and power. Finally, Prina blew the audience away with her electric coloratura and commanding stage presence in Handel’s “Venti turbini”. Simone Kermes launched into Porpora’s “Vedrà turbato il mare” with complete abandon, leaping into the stratosphere with amazing security. Kermes powered through the ferocious “Empi se mai disciolgo” seemingly without stopping for breath, while she playfully vaulted above the stave in “Son qual nave in ria procella”.
The evening was dominated by a series of duets between the soprano and contralto. We were presented with two offerings from Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater. In “Stabat Mater dolorosa” Kermes and Prina sauntered through the sinuous suspensions with spine-tingling precision, their two distinct voices intertwining magically. “Fac, ut ardet cor meum” is much faster, much more vigorous. The combination of two of the Baroque music world’s best coloratura specialists made for an exciting rendition. Perhaps my favourite duet of the evening was Handel’s “Io t’abbraccio” from Rodelina. Prina and Kermes were completely in character, full of heartache and suffering: a truly stunning rendition of this devastating duet.
But is wasn’t all heartache and sorrow. By the time we came to the encores, we were into the territory of the Baroque love duet. The first encore was the ebullient “Scherzano sul tuo volto” from Handel’sRinaldo. Kermes and Prina sang like a pair of young lovers, and ended the piece with a kiss! The second duet, “Caro! Bella!” from Giulio Cesare, saw Prina dive down to a marvellous D3 at the beginning of the da capo, the lowest note I have heard from her so far. Throughout the concert, the accompaniment by La Magnifica Comunità, under the direction of Enrico Casazza, was, as always, excellent.
Yende’s Rosenblatt Recital was her debut London Recital, and judging by her performance it will be the first of many.
The last performer in the 2012-13 Rosenblatt Recitals series was the sensational young South African coloratura soprano Pretty Yende. She made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York covering for an indisposed Nino Machaidze in Rossini’s Le Comte Ory with only a couple of weeks notice, and then covered for an indisposed Cecilia Bartoli in the same Opera in Vienna with only three days’ notice! She has already had her debut at La Scala, and is currently under the tutelage of the great Mariella Devia. Yende’s Rosenblatt Recital was her debut London Recital, and judging by her performance it will be the first of many.
The first section began and closed with Rossini: “La Promessa” and “L’Invito” respectively. Yende displayed wonderful breath control and phrasing in “La Promessa” singing through one line and into the next, all the while modulating the dynamics with observable skill. In “L’Invito”, she navigated the coloratura passages with pinpoint precision. Yende’s beautiful high pianissimi in Bellini’s “Almen, se non poss’io” was for me the highlight of the fist selection, floating lightly yet securely with the true ring of a coloratura soprano. Speaking to the audience, Yende announced that she would insert Verdi’s “Stornello” into the program, which she sang with playful exuberance. This was followed by Donizetti’s “Il barcaiolo” giving us the first exciting glimpse of Yende’s highest register.
My favourite selection of the evening was the Sonetti del Petrarca by Liszt. In the first song, “Pace non Trovo”, Yende was magnificent. She displayed a profound connection with the text which she communicated to the audience, coupled with a precise knowledge of the score (she sang without a score for the entire performance) observing little details like the quaver rest between the syllables “stes-so”. When she reached the phrase “ed amo altrui” the Cb6 was delicate without being constricted, and the Db6’s were perfectly placed. Again showing a full understanding of the text, Yende also impressed with “Benedetto sia’l giorno”, skilfully moving through the descending chromatic phrase on the word “lagrime”. The final piece, “I vidi in terra angelici costumi” was bursting with emotion: entrancing yet full of sorrow.
The second half of the recital began with five Debussy songs, including the famous “Beau Soir” and “Clair de lune”. It was in “Apparition” that Yende most impressed. Her singing was intense, and she held the emotion right through to the last note. The playful “Mandoline” had Yende lightening her voice in the upper reaches, whilst bringing more chest resonance into the lower notes. James Vaughn, the accompanying pianist, was in his element here, glorying in Debussy’s wonderful music.
Weill’s “My Ship” ushered in a series of four English language songs. Yende really played with the text, interacting with the audience, and displaying a velvety quality in her voice. Next came two songs by Gershwin. The first, “By Strauss”, again displayed Yende’s intelligent sense of phrasing. Accompanist James Vaughn was wonderful again at the piano, really getting under the skin of the music. “Blah blah blah” was the second Gershwin offering, allowing Yende to show off her comic timing to great effect. She leaned forward, singling out individual audience members at the end of each line, and was highly engaging. Bernstein’s “I feel pretty” was a perfect end to the section. It was clear that Yende was really enjoying herself, and the audience matched her levels of enthusiasm with its applause.
The final piece of the program was the aria “O luce di quest’anima” from Donizetti’s Linda di Chamounix. Yende was confident and comfortable with the high tessitura, her voice swelling magnificently on the Db6’s. The first encore was “Bel raggio lusinghier” from Rossini’s Semiramide. To follow “O luce di quest’anima” with this aria was a courageous choice. Yende pulled out all the stops to deliver a firecracker of a performance, her voice coruscating along the lines of coloratura, winding up the tension. After many stratospheric interpolated notes, Yende capped off the performance with a whopping E6, which earned her a standing ovation from many in the audience. The final encore was “O mio babbino caro” from Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi, which was beautifully sung, finishing off an exciting evening.
The hall of the Warsaw National Opera House was packed out with people from all over Europe coming to hear the great Polish contralto Ewa Podleś perform a series of arias which showcased the wide-ranging scope of her repertoire. Accompanying her was conductor Michael Güttler, and the Teatru Wielkiego choir and orchestra.
To start the evening, we were treated to a lively performance of the Arrival of the Queen of Sheba, from Handel’s Solomon. The orchestra was in good form, and particular praise must go to the oboe soloists who did a spectacular job. Madame Podleś arrived onstage to a thunderous applause, dressed in a glamorous black trouser suit with sequins. Her first aria was “Dover, giustizia, amor” from Ariodante, which she took slightly slower than usual, but nevertheless dominated it in true Podleś style. The end of the aria saw her rise to a ringing A5, only to thunder down to a chesty D4 to finish.
We were treated to three pieces of Rossini during the program, two overtures and an aria/scena. The first overture was from William Tell, in which the cello soloists and the section in general were magnificent, playing with intensity and feeling. The ebullient overture from Il Signor Bruschino was the second orchestral offering from Rossini. Güttler’s conducting was full of zany energy, and the second violins very much enjoyed their bow-tapping on the stands. (The score of the bow tapping can be seen in the picture below).
Ewa Podleś gave a highly dramatic and aggressive performance of “Ciro infelice” from Rossini’s Ciro in Babilonia. Pitch-perfect notes at the top of the voice were thrown out like javelins at the audience, while the true contralto chest register was unleashed on more than one occasion, with the slow descent to E3 a stunning example of the cavernous force of the lower end of the female voice. Podleś ended the aria with a truly primal D4, high in the chest register, which lasted right until the end of the orchestral accompaniment. It was a truly devastating piece of singing, which earned a huge round of applause from the audience.
Podleś again impressed with “Il sergreto per esser felici” from Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia. Her perfect legato singing was matched with a very rich sound in the middle register. Her F5’s and G5’s were spot-on, and Podleś seemed to enjoy moving through the upper register in this aria. During the repetition of the phrase “si dan del futuro pensier” she once again plumbed the contralto profundo depths, hitting an E3 of such force and resonance that a couple of tenors in the choir were rather taken aback!
Returning to the stage, Podleś had changed into a wonderful orange dress with black lace embroidery to sing “Field of Death” from Prokofiev’s cantata Alexander Nevsky. The mesmerising timbre of the Podleś middle register was perfect for this piece, and the great contralto was forced to come back onstage at the end, such was the level of applause she received. Another emotionally charged aria was “Voce di donna o d’angelo” from Ponchielli’s La Gioconda. Here Podleś was full of high drama, fiercely emotional and physically compelling. Again the audience erupted with applause.
The concert program concluded with a selection of music from two Verdi operas. The first piece was the overture to La forza del destino, the main motif of which was beautifully played by the wind section. The spectacular Anvil Chorus from Il Trovatore gave the bass and contralto sections of the choir a chance to shine, as the main part of the chorus is written in unison high in the voice. The wall of sound from the right of the choir was startling to behold.
Finally, Madame Podleś returned to the stage as Azucena singing the menacing “Stride la Vampa” also from Il Trovatore. The Polish contralto’s acting ability came to the fore here, as she was totally in character from the moment she took position next to Güttler. Her high notes were extraordinarily resonant, a testament to her excellent technique.
We were treated to two encores. The first was a scene from Massenet’s Cendrillon, where Podleś takes on the character role of Madame de la Haltière, a role she performed at the Royal Opera House. Her comic timing was perfect, and her gestures and expressions intelligently executed. The final encore was “Cruda Sorte” from Rossini’s L'italiana in Algeri. Podleś alternated magnificently between the light head register for the coloratura passages, and the dark chest register used for the chromatic descent on the phrase “tutti la bramano”. She ended the concert in true Podleś style with a formidable F5 which rang out spectacularly.
It was an amazing concert, and I’m very glad I went to Warsaw to see her.
Contralto Sonia Prina joined forces with the incomparable Il Pomo d’Oro for a memorable evening, combining the beauty and depth of Vivaldi with some breathtaking performances. It was a triumph for Prina, earning a rapturous applause from a packed Wigmore Hall.
The first of the three Vivaldi cantatas we were treated to was “Perfidissimo cor!” which was accompanied only by Harpsichord, Lute and Cello. This intimate grouping allowed Prina to communicate, with a potent intensity, the emotional charge of the text, weaving an enchantment which remained throughout the evening. Prina’s famous coloratura came early in the recital, as she navigated effortlessly through the demisemiquaver runs occurring repeatedly on the word “sdegno” in the first of the two arias, which she ended with a formidably solid G3. The second aria contained many uses of elements of the harmonic minor scale, which requires pin-point accuracy of pitch to sound effective: a requirement that Prina was more than happy to deliver.
The first aria of the second Vivaldi Cantata, “Cessate, omai cessate”, opened with an interesting mix of pizzicato and bowed strings: the score stipulating that only the cello and one violin be bowed. At moments of emphasis, all the strings are designated arco, which gave an aggressive, whip-like effect to the phrase “Già barbare e spietate”. Prina’s beautiful ornament at the end of the B section lead straight into the da capo, where she added a series of tasteful mordents, turns and trills, finishing with an ornament that deliciously portrayed Prina’s dark and velvety lower register. The second aria set the Wigmore Hall on fire, as Prina performed at impossibly high speed, throwing out F5’s like fireworks, while adding even faster ornamentation in the da capo. The roar that came from the audience proclaimed the first half a resounding success.
In the second half, Prina presented us with two arias from Vivaldi’s operas. The first, “Cosi potessi anch’io” from Orlando furioso, saw Prina don the mantle of the Sorceress Alcina, alternating between longing for her lover, and lamenting her lot at the hands of the god of love. Prina carried a beautiful legato line, with a warm and passionate tone throughout. The second aria, “Se in ogni guardo” fromOrlando finto pazzo, saw Prina rip through the music like lightning. Her precision in the difficult coloratura passages was astounding. The final piece in the second half was the cantata “Amor, hai vinto”. It is known as the Queen of Vivaldi’s cantatas, and is full of explosive and passionate music. The first aria starts with a powerful continuo line, and sinuous, interweaving upper stings, in pairs of resolving dissonances. Prina dealt expertly with the lines of triplet semiquavers, while declaiming emphatically the agitated and fiery text. The coloratura in the second aria was a pure delight to listen to in the hands of so athletic an artist. Prina choice of repertoire was well balanced, and an excellent showcase for her exhilarating contralto voice.
The first of the Instrumental pieces, Giuseppe Brescianello’s Sinfonia in F, Op. 1, No. 5, was a joyous way to introduce Il Pomo d’Oro to the audience. The opening movement alternated between lively movement, and a series of slower, tender motifs played only by the higher strings. The other two pieces were Violin concertos by Vivaldi. The middle section of the first concerto, the C major RV 181, had a tender and mournful line for the violin which Riccardo Minasi, director of Il Pomo d’Oro, performed with intuitive and sensitive musicianship. The final concerto, the E minor RV 277 “Il Favorito”, had an astounding part for Riccardo Minasi, who truly took on the mantel of Vivaldi with virtuosity and skill. I must also mention the extraordinary Ludovico Minasi on cello, and Giulio D’Alessio on Viola, who managed to tease the most beautiful “alto” sounds right from the soul of the instrument.
For the encore, Prina gave us two marvellous arias. The first was “Vedrò con mio diletto” from IlGiustino. Prina introduced the aria by telling us that it was one of her favourites, which she used to sing when she was pregnant. In her hands, the aria reprised the enchantment of the first cantata. Her dynamic decisions were perfectly considered, and her choice of ornamentation enhanced the already beautiful melodic line. It was wonderful to hear Prina use the lower registers in the da capo, rather than moving higher in the voice as is usually the case when this aria is performed by other singers. The second encore was "Nel profondo" from Orlando Furioso. She introduced the aria as being both funny and fast: and indeed it was. She interacted magnificently with both the orchestra and the audience: the wonderful “yes” gasped by Riccardo Minasi as Prina reached the low G3 on the word “mondo” received a hearty laugh from the audience. In the da capo, Prina launched herself up to a spectacular G5, and followed it immediately by plummeting down two octaves to a G3.
It was a fantastic concert, one of the best I have been to. I left the concert exhilarated by the music, and determined to see this superb contralto again very soon. I was also very pleased to have had the chance to hear Il Pomo d’Oro, as they are truly one of the best period orchestras on the circuit today.
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.