Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Treasures of the English Renaissance: Stile Antico, Live from London

Although Stile Antico’s programme article for their Live from London recital introduced their selection from the many treasures of the English Renaissance in the context of the theological debates and upheavals of the Tudor and Elizabethan years, their performance was more evocative of private chamber music than of public liturgy.

Anima Rara: Ermonela Jaho

In February this year, Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho made a highly lauded debut recital at Wigmore Hall - a concert which both celebrated Opera Rara’s 50th anniversary and honoured the career of the Italian soprano Rosina Storchio (1872-1945), the star of verismo who created the title roles in Leoncavallo’s La bohème and Zazà, Mascagni’s Lodoletta and Puccini’s Madama Butterfly.

A wonderful Wigmore Hall debut by Elizabeth Llewellyn

Evidently, face masks don’t stifle appreciative “Bravo!”s. And, reducing audience numbers doesn’t lower the volume of such acclamations. For, the audience at Wigmore Hall gave soprano Elizabeth Llewellyn and pianist Simon Lepper a greatly deserved warm reception and hearty response following this lunchtime recital of late-Romantic song.

Requiem pour les temps futurs: An AI requiem for a post-modern society

Collapsology. Or, perhaps we should use the French word ‘Collapsologie’ because this is a transdisciplinary idea pretty much advocated by a series of French theorists - and apparently, mostly French theorists. It in essence focuses on the imminent collapse of modern society and all its layers - a series of escalating crises on a global scale: environmental, economic, geopolitical, governmental; the list is extensive.

The Sixteen: Music for Reflection, live from Kings Place

For this week’s Live from London vocal recital we moved from the home of VOCES8, St Anne and St Agnes in the City of London, to Kings Place, where The Sixteen - who have been associate artists at the venue for some time - presented a programme of music and words bound together by the theme of ‘reflection’.

Iestyn Davies and Elizabeth Kenny explore Dowland's directness and darkness at Hatfield House

'Such is your divine Disposation that both you excellently understand, and royally entertaine the Exercise of Musicke.’

Ádám Fischer’s 1991 MahlerFest Kassel ‘Resurrection’ issued for the first time

Amongst an avalanche of new Mahler recordings appearing at the moment (Das Lied von der Erde seems to be the most favoured, with three) this 1991 Mahler Second from the 2nd Kassel MahlerFest is one of the more interesting releases.

Paradise Lost: Tête-à-Tête 2020

‘And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven … that old serpent … Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.’

Max Lorenz: Tristan und Isolde, Hamburg 1949

If there is one myth, it seems believed by some people today, that probably needs shattering it is that post-war recordings or performances of Wagner operas were always of exceptional quality. This 1949 Hamburg Tristan und Isolde is one of those recordings - though quite who is to blame for its many problems takes quite some unearthing.

Joyce DiDonato: Met Stars Live in Concert

There was never any doubt that the fifth of the twelve Met Stars Live in Concert broadcasts was going to be a palpably intense and vivid event, as well as a musically stunning and theatrically enervating experience.

‘Where All Roses Go’: Apollo5, Live from London

‘Love’ was the theme for this Live from London performance by Apollo5. Given the complexity and diversity of that human emotion, and Apollo5’s reputation for versatility and diverse repertoire, ranging from Renaissance choral music to jazz, from contemporary classical works to popular song, it was no surprise that their programme spanned 500 years and several musical styles.

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields 're-connect'

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields have titled their autumn series of eight concerts - which are taking place at 5pm and 7.30pm on two Saturdays each month at their home venue in Trafalgar Square, and being filmed for streaming the following Thursday - ‘re:connect’.

Lucy Crowe and Allan Clayton join Sir Simon Rattle and the LSO at St Luke's

The London Symphony Orchestra opened their Autumn 2020 season with a homage to Oliver Knussen, who died at the age of 66 in July 2018. The programme traced a national musical lineage through the twentieth century, from Britten to Knussen, on to Mark-Anthony Turnage, and entwining the LSO and Rattle too.

Choral Dances: VOCES8, Live from London

With the Live from London digital vocal festival entering the second half of the series, the festival’s host, VOCES8, returned to their home at St Annes and St Agnes in the City of London to present a sequence of ‘Choral Dances’ - vocal music inspired by dance, embracing diverse genres from the Renaissance madrigal to swing jazz.

Royal Opera House Gala Concert

Just a few unison string wriggles from the opening of Mozart’s overture to Le nozze di Figaro are enough to make any opera-lover perch on the edge of their seat, in excited anticipation of the drama in music to come, so there could be no other curtain-raiser for this Gala Concert at the Royal Opera House, the latest instalment from ‘their House’ to ‘our houses’.

Fading: The Gesualdo Six at Live from London

"Before the ending of the day, creator of all things, we pray that, with your accustomed mercy, you may watch over us."

Met Stars Live in Concert: Lise Davidsen at the Oscarshall Palace in Oslo

The doors at The Metropolitan Opera will not open to live audiences until 2021 at the earliest, and the likelihood of normal operatic life resuming in cities around the world looks but a distant dream at present. But, while we may not be invited from our homes into the opera house for some time yet, with its free daily screenings of past productions and its pay-per-view Met Stars Live in Concert series, the Met continues to bring opera into our homes.

Women's Voices: a sung celebration of six eloquent and confident voices

The voices of six women composers are celebrated by baritone Jeremy Huw Williams and soprano Yunah Lee on this characteristically ambitious and valuable release by Lontano Records Ltd (Lorelt).

Precipice: The Grange Festival

Music-making at this year’s Grange Festival Opera may have fallen silent in June and July, but the country house and extensive grounds of The Grange provided an ideal setting for a weekend of twelve specially conceived ‘promenade’ performances encompassing music and dance.

Rosa mystica: Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir

As Paul Spicer, conductor of the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir, observes, the worship of the Blessed Virgin Mary is as ‘old as Christianity itself’, and programmes devoted to settings of texts which venerate the Virgin Mary are commonplace.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Handel’s <em>Rinaldo</em>: The English Concert, directed by Harry Bicket at the Barbican
14 Mar 2018

Rinaldo: The English Concert at the Barbican Hall

“After such cruel events, I don’t know if I am dreaming or awake.” So says Almirena, daughter of the Crusader Goffredo, when she is rescued by her beloved warrior-hero, Rinaldo, from the clutches of the evil sorceress, Armida.

Handel’s Rinaldo: The English Concert, directed by Harry Bicket at the Barbican

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: (left to right) Joélle Harvey, Iestyn Davies, Sasha Cooke, Jakub Józef Orliński, Harry Bicket, Jane Archibald, Luca Pisaroni, and the English Concert

Photo credit: Robert Workman

 

And, Almirena’s incredulity might be shared by the audience at the denouement of Handel’s Rinaldo which, to the common-place cat’s-cradle of romantic cross-threads adds a swift lieto fine reversal which sees a pair of supernatural and mortal evil-doers overcome by love - for each other, for their enemies and for the latter’s Christian god. “O clemency of Heaven!”, “Blessed Fate!”, “Virtue has triumphed!” cry the elated, conquering Crusaders. “O happy we!” is the choric conclusion.

Indeed, even Handel’s contemporaries - particularly those English commentators and musicians who resented the adulation and success that the newly arrived Saxon composer and the Italianate operatic forms, styles and singers that he brought with him were enjoying in London - were quick to ridicule the lavish extravagance and artifice of the first production of Rinaldo, which opened at the Queen’s (later King’s) Theatre on Haymarket on 24th February 1711.

Spectatum admissi risum teneatis?’ ­- ‘If you were admitted to see this, could you hold back your laughter?’ - was the epigraph, drawn from Horace’s The Art of Poetry, that the esteemed essayist John Addison chose for an article in The Spectator, 6th March 1711, in which he derided the ‘painted dragons spitting wildfire, enchanted chariots drawn by Flanders mares, and real cascades in artificial landscapes’, as well as the sight of ‘Nicolini [Nicolò Grimaldi, who created the principal role in both Rinaldo and Amadigi] exposed to a tempest in robes of ermine, and sailing on an open boat upon a sea of paste-board!’ [1]

But, if Addison delighted in mocking the real-life ‘sparrows’ which took flight during Almirena’s ‘bird-song aria’ - ‘there have been so many flights of them let loose in this opera that it is feared the house will never get rid of them’ - and the need for a team of stand-by firefighters in case the fireworks which illuminated the lightning and thunder caused a conflagration, then the London public loved Handel’s setting of the 24-year-old writer-impresario Aaron Hill’s adaptation of Torquato Tasso’s epic poem Gerusalemme liberate, and didn’t share Addison’s objections to Giacomo Rossi’s libretto, with its ‘florid … tedious circumlocutions’.

Although Hill’s resourceful imagination and youthful ambition were not complemented by financial acumen - failure to pay both the tradesman who built the set and supplied the costumes and the musicians resulted in the immediate termination of Hill’s contract to manage the Queen’s Theatre - Rinaldo had a triumphant first-run of fifteen performances and, re-staged 53 times, it was Handel’s most popular opera during his life-time. At the Barbican Hall, a fantastic cast of soloists alongside Harry Bicket’s English Consort showed the capacity audience just why Rinaldo achieved and deserved such success, then and now.

Cooke and Davies.jpgSasha Cooke (Goffredo), Joélle Harvey (Almirena) and Iestyn Davies (Rinaldo). Photo credit: Robert Workman.

As the eponymous warrior-saviour, Iestyn Davies exhibited all of the ‘infinite variety of colour’ and ‘expressive depth’ which I admired when countertenor and ensemble shared the Barbican Hall stage for a superb performance of Handel’s Orlando in 2016 - to which he here added the stamina, expressive compass and extensive vocal range required to exploit the musical and dramatic diversity of the eight arias and two duets which Handel composed for Nicolini. Davies knows this role well and, though this was a ‘concert performance’, his characterisation and dramatic credibility were unwavering and as compelling as his singing. From Rinaldo’s first recitative, Davies’ countertenor was imbued with a penetrating dynamism which captured the hero’s impetuousness, passion and conviction. When the Amazonian sorceress Armida kidnapped Almirena, disappearing into the black clouds of flame and smoke which spew from her bellowing monsters, this Rinaldo stared into the orchestra, in disbelief at his loss, as if some answers could be gleaned from the spiteful assertions of the instrumentalists’ sinfonia. His grief found expression in both the beauty and rhetoric of ‘Cara sposa’, in which Bicket encouraged the strings to make much of their chromatic nuances and to swell with heartfelt warmth in the ritornelli. Davies ability to sing through the line with mesmerising communicativeness and expressive intensity, and his ease of movement across and between registers, was simply stunning.

And, if the firmness, warmth and expressive sincerity of Davies’ lower range impressed in this aria, in ‘Cor ingrato, ti rimembri’ it was the fluidity of both the vocal line and Joseph Crouch’s eloquent, responsive cello counter-melody that so naturally captured the pain of a heart so distressed that it must surely break in two. Then, quicksilver agility and sweetly piercing clarity marked ‘Venti, turbini, prestate’, with leader Nadjz Zwiener and bassoonist Alberto Grazzi matching the fiery nimbleness of the vocal whirlwinds. Even at the close, Davies’ countertenor sounded fresh and vigorous, equal to the challenge not just of matching the might and majesty of the four trumpets who enliven the triumphant ‘Or la tromba’, but to engaging in well-considered ‘duets’ and trilling in consort with the instrumentalists.

Pisaroni and Harvey.jpgLuca Pisaroni (Argante) and Joélle Harvey (Almirena). Photo credit: Robert Workman.

Davies’ fellow cast members were no less impressive, though. The first phrase of Armida’s ‘Furie terribili’ flashed with fire as Jane Archibald summoned an almost burning gloss at the top to convey the evil enchantress’s fury, and she wasn’t afraid to introduce an occasional nasal glint to suggest duplicity and cunning. Archibald was untroubled by the extravagant coloratura of her second Act 1 aria, but in the following Act’s grief-laden ‘Ah crudel, il pianto mio’ she found beautiful tonal richness to convey an affecting sorrow which was complemented by plaintive oboe and bassoon.

Recorder player Tabea Debus charmingly evoked pastoral purity in Almirena’s ‘Augelletti’, her rapid-fire whistling conjuring an angelic aviary to dispel the image of Addison’s scorned sparrows. Here, Joélle Harvey’s crystalline soprano matched Debus’ sparkling spotlessness, while the freshness of Harvey’s opening aria, in which Almirena urges her beloved warrior to victory, was tinted with just a glint of passion at times, suggesting a flash of the silvery sword that Rinaldo will carry with him into battle. In Act 3, both the unison between voice and violins and the synchronisation of the fluid changes of metre in ‘Bel piacere’ were flawless. But, before that, Harvey had held the Barbican Hall audience spellbound in ‘Lascia ch’io pianga’: Handel could recognise when he had a hit on his hands, borrowing this aria from his 1707 Roman oratorio, Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno (which had itself made use of material derived from the sarabande in Almira of 1705), but even he would surely have delighted in the grace, beauty and dignity that Harvey bestowed upon the deeply expressive simplicity of this aria, in which Crouch and theorbo player William Carter added discerning and delicate detail.

The plum-coloured hues and consoling warm of Sasha Cooke’s mezzo conveyed all of Goffredo’s regal composure and goodness in the ruler’s first aria of faith and contentment, while the effortless elegance and melodic fluency of ‘Sorge nel petto’ in Act 3 made Goffredo’s calm joy and deep familial love palpable. As Goffredo’s brother, Eustazio, countertenor Jakub Józef Orliński offered a slightly mellower, darker complement to Davies. The easy flow and even colour of ‘Col valor, colla virtù’ at the close of Act 1 impressed, while the lyricism and alertness to textual nuance of ‘Siam prossimi al porto’ evoked both the confident faith and the tender love of the three crusaders as they arrived at Armida’s sure to liberate Almirena from the sorceress’s clutches. Owen Willetts effectively characterised Armida’s supernatural opponent, the Christian conjuror Mago and light-heartedly injected a little comedy into the rescue mission, furnishing the Christian champions with an outsized magician’s wand which would have done a pantomime fairy proud.

Archibald.jpg Luca Pisaroni (Argante) and Jane Archibald (Armida). Photo credit: Robert Workman.

Supernatural egos and volte-faces provided opportunity for wry humour and wit elsewhere, too, in Armida’s sparring duet with Rinaldo, and when the spurned sorceress put emotional neediness before pride in acceptance the apology of her errant mortal lover, Argante. As the leader of the Islamic forces occupying Jerusalem, Luca Pisaroni made a tremendous impression of bravado and self-righteousness in his entrance aria, ‘Sibillar gli angui d’Aletto’, squaring up vocally and physically to the threat from his Christian challengers and pouring his bass-baritone vigorously but smoothly through the long, running lines. Pisaroni acted superbly, through both voice and demeanour: when appealing to Alminera’s affections, his tone was tender; when responding to her rejection, his voice drew renewed strength from indignation.

Bicket’s direction was not overly demonstrative but small gestures made their mark and there was telling control of cadential hiatuses and resolutions. Understandably, in the light of the terrific instrumental playing we enjoyed, Bicket simply allowed his musicians to demonstrate their excellence, none more so than harpsichordist Tom Foster whose flamboyant rendition of the breath-taking virtuosic improvisatory interludes within Armida’s vengeful war-mongering at the close of Act 2 received perhaps the loudest applause of the evening.

In rejecting what he saw as the childish absurdities of that first production of Rinaldo, Addison did allow that an opera ‘may be allowed to be extravagantly lavish in its decorations, as its only design is to gratify the senses, and keep up an indolent attention in the audience’. There was nothing ‘indolent’ about the attentiveness of the hugely appreciative Barbican Hall audience on this occasion, however, and only the skill, care and insight which Bicket, the English Consort and the superb cast lavished on Handel’s music was required in order for our senses to be satisfyingly and enchantingly gratified.

Claire Seymour

Handel: Rinaldo
The English Concert: Harry Bicket (conductor)

Rinaldo - Iestyn Davies, Armida - Jane Archibald, Goffredo - Sasha Cooke, Almirena/Siren - Joélle Harvey, Argante - Luca Pisaroni, Eustazio - Jakub Józef Orliński, Araldo/Donna/Mago - Owen Willetts.

Barbican Hall, London; Tuesday 13th March 2018.



[1] Reprinted in Oliver Strunk (ed), Source Readings in Music History (Norton & Co., 1998), pp.683-86.

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):