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19 Jan 2013

Baroque treasures at the Barbican, London

The Barbican is going have a bit of a baroque moment next month. Joyce DiDonato will be bringing her Drama Queens programme, then there will be complete performances of Handel's Radamisto and Lully's Phaeton.

Accompanied by Il Complesso Barocco directed by Dmitry Skinkovsky, Joyce DiDonato will be performing a selection of arias from great queen roles in baroque opera, on February 6. She performs arias for Cleopatra by Handel (from Giulio Cesare) and Hasse (from Antonio e Cleopatra). Hasse married Handel's leading lady, Francesca Cuzzoni, and settled in Naples, but Antonio e Cleopatra dates from early in his career when he was based in Naples. DiDonato will also be singing one of Rossane's arias from Handel's Alessandro, written for the great trio of singers Senesino, Francesca Cuzzoni and Faustina Bordone with Rossane being sung by Bordone.

An earlier generation is represented by Ottavia's final aria from Monteverdi's L'Incoronazione di Poppea.

Other baroque composers in the recital are rather less well known. Giuseppe Orlandini (1676 -1760) worked extensively in Italy, but his opera Arsace was premiered at the Kings Theatre in London in 1721. DiDonato will be singing an aria from his opera Berenice which dates from 1725. Geminiano Giacomelli was Italian born, but worked extensively in Vienna. His opera Merope was premiered in Venice in 1734, and DiDonato sings an aria from this opera. Giovanni Porta was another Italian composer who worked in London, his opera Numitore was premiered at the Kings Theatre in 1720. We will be hearing an aria from Ifigenia in Aulide, which was premiered in Monaco in 1738

The orchestra will also be playing instrumental music including a Vivaldi concerto written for Dresden, and the passacaglia from Handel's Radamisto.

We get the complete Radamisto on Feburary 10 with David Daniels singing the title role in a concert performance with Harry Bicket conducting the English Concert with Patricia Bardon as Zenobia, Luca Pisaroni as Tiridate, Elizabeth Watts as Tigrane, Brenda Rae as Polisenna and Robert Rice as Farasmene

Radamisto dates from 1720 and is one of the most serious of Handel’s serious operas (opera seria) written for the Royal Academy in the earlier part of his career. His aristocratic patrons who ran the academy were interested in seeing noble characters put through difficult situations, morally uplifting. The plot can sometimes seem convoluted, and there is no light relief, but Handel’s response to the characters difficulties is wonderfully subtle and humane. After the first performance in April 1720, Handel radically re-cast the opera so that the title role could be sung by the alto castrato Senesino, recently arrived in London. This gives us the unusual situation where one of Handel’s revisions to his Italian operas is as valid artistically as the original. The English Concert will be performing the revised version.

Prior to their Barbican performance, they are performing the work at the Theatre des Champs Elysees in Paris and at Symphony Hall in Birmingham.

Then on 10 March we move to Paris, as Christoph Rousset and Les Talens Lyriques perform Lully’s Phaeton with Emiliano Gonzalez Toro, Ingrid Perruche, Isabelle Druet, Sophie Bevan, Andrew Foster-Williams, Matthew Brook, Benoît Arnould, Cyril Auvity, Virginie Thomas. Lully wrote the opera to a libretto by his regular collaborator Philippe Quinault and the work premiered at Versailles in 1683. Its plot, dealing with the hubris of Phaeton, son of the Sun god, can be seen as an allegory of the punishment awaiting those mortals who dare to raise themselves as high as the sun (i.e. the Sun King, Louis XIV). The opera is the 10th of Lully’s 14 tragedies lyriques. As with all operas in the form, it mixes aria with choruses and extensive dance episodes which are integrated into the plot.

Robert Hugill

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