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Performances

Elisabeth Christine of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel [Source: Wikipedia]
30 Apr 2018

La concordia de’ pianeti: Imperial flattery set to Baroque splendor in Amsterdam

One trusts the banquet following the world premiere of La concordia de’ pianeti proffered some spicy flavors, because Pietro Pariati’s text is so cloying it causes violent stomach-churning. In contrast, Antonio Caldara’s music sparkles and dances like a blaze of crystal chandeliers.

La concordia de’ pianeti: Imperial flattery set to Baroque splendor in Amsterdam

A review by Jenny Camilleri

Above: Elisabeth Christine of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel [Source: Wikipedia]

 

La concordia de’ pianeti was commissioned to celebrate the name day of Elizabeth Christine of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, mother of Empress Maria Theresa and grandmother of Queen Marie Antoinette of France. In November 1723 she and her husband, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI, were returning to Vienna from Prague, where they had been crowned monarchs of Bohemia. During a stop in Znojmo, Moravia, Caldara, who was employed by the emperor, conducted the open-air premiere for the imperial couple. La concordia de’ pianeti is more of a secular cantata than a one-act opera. Its plot, such as it is, consists of the god Mercury persuading six other gods that “Elisa”, the empress, possesses qualities equal, or even superior, to theirs, thus deserving deification. Each of the seven gods and goddesses is associated with a heavenly body: Apollo with the sun, Saturn and Venus with the eponymous planets, and so on. Their final agreement on Elisa’s unsurpassable wonderfulness corresponds to the harmony of the spheres, hence the title. At one point the lunar goddess Diana scoffs that she’d like to see Elisa hunting boar and deer as skillfully as herself. Unfortunately, this tantalizing diversion in the plot never happens. As the gods concede Elizabeth’s supremacy one by one, the obsequious puffery reaches ridiculous proportions. The deities eulogize Elizabeth’s spotlessness, beauty and, most insistently, her fertility, ad nauseam. The empress, who was under immense pressure to produce a male heir, was pregnant with a boy at the time, but later had a miscarriage.

Given the qualitative chasm separating the words and the music, this performance by the Baroque ensemble La Cetra under Andrea Marcon, would have been better off without subtitles. But Caldara’s ornate score certainly deserved to be rescued from obscurity in 2014. Four trumpets and a set of timpani festoon the introduction. The laudatory choruses, plushly sung by the La Cetra chorus, set a celebratory mood. Conducting deftly but unhurriedly, Marcon maintained a festive pace throughout. The arias are eminently hummable, often danceable, the melodies set off with brilliant instrumental colors, and there were plenty of opportunities for the excellent musicians to show off their virtuosity. The two lutenists supplied springy rhythms and the principal trumpet elegantly dueled with Marte (Mars) in one of his arias. At full strength, the orchestra, with its warm and vibrant strings, threatened to swamp the smaller voices.

All seven soloists are to be commended for trying to inject some theatre into the empty, repetitive flattery, and succeeding to an extent by dint of their personalities. Vocally, they offered between them an impressive variety of qualities. Countertenor David Hansen sang Apollo, a role created by the star castrato Carestini, with a gauzy middle voice that opened up into a full, clarion top. Carlos Mena made an assertive Marte (Mars). Mena’s countertenor is idiosyncratic, with surprisingly dark low notes. He glided through the contrasting hues of his registers with agility and appealing swagger. Both Hansen and Mena had enough volume to hold their own against the orchestra, as did bass Luca Tittoto. As Saturno, Tittoto combined power with comely phrasing. Verónica Cangemi was a charmingly combative Diana. All the gods get two arias, except for Venere (Venus), who gets three, and Cangemi’s thin-topped soprano sounded at its best in her second aria, which made full use of its warm, upper middle band. Lovers of smooth, evenly produced voices could sit back and enjoy Emiliano Gonzalez Toro as Mercurio, Christophe Dumaux as Giove (Jupiter) and Delphine Galou as Venere. With modestly sized voices, they each spun out ribbons of unblemished coloratura. Galou’s mellow mezzo-soprano, Dumaux’s patrician countertenor and Gonzalez Toro’s bright tenor differentiated their characters in a way the stilted text never could. Above all, everyone on the podium projected great pleasure in performing this effulgent music, and the audience responded with appreciative enthusiasm.

Jenny Camilleri


Cast and production information:

Venere - Delphine Galou, mezzo-soprano; Diana - Verónica Cangemi, soprano; Giove - Christophe Dumaux, countertenor; Apollo - David Hansen, countertenor; Marte - Carlos Mena, countertenor; Mercurio - Emiliano Gonzalez Toro, tenor; Saturno - Luca Tittoto, bass. Conductor - Andrea Marcon. La Cetra Barockorchester & Vokalensemble Basel. Heard at the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, on Saturday, 28th of April, 2018.

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