It’s two and a half years since Franco Fagioli last sang in London, and a year and a half since I saw him as the eponymous Eliogabalo at the Opéra de Paris. Would time have wrought any changes on that distinctive voice? I came to his latest concert full of curiosity. This time his programme was devoted to music by Vivaldi and Handel, with the accompaniment of the Venice Baroque Orchestra, led by Gianpiero Zanocco. Part of the evening’s success must be attributed to their deft and zestful performance of the music, but – as I said to Dehggial – they are the Venice Baroque Orchestra after all and, if they hadn’t been able to play Vivaldi properly, it would have been a sorry state of affairs. And Fagioli himself? A very pleasant surprise. He’s stripped away some of the affectations that have irritated me before; his voice seems stronger than ever; and he turned in a performance that left the Barbican’s rafters shaking with applause.
This fascinating chamber-piece is a revival of a production performed in the Linbury Studio at the Royal Opera House in 2016. Choreographed and directed by Will Tuckett, with text by Alasdair Middleton, music by Martin Yates and dazzling costumes by Fay Fullerton, it’s a feast for the eyes and the mind. Combining dance, music, spoken word and song, it’s the closest thing to an Elizabethan court masque that you’ll see on the London stage, and its ambitious structure is uniquely appropriate. For it tells the story of Elizabeth I herself, from romantic young princess, to shrewd strategic queen, to lonely old woman, all brought to life with astonishing conviction by Zenaida Yanowsky.
(Barbican Theatre, London, 5 September 2015)
Whatever your feelings about celebrity casting or, indeed, Benedict Cumberbatch, there’s no doubt that the Barbican’s Hamlet is the hottest ticket of the year here in London. I failed to get a ticket when they initially went on sale. The only reason I managed to get there at all is because a friend won two tickets in a lottery: a lottery I’d also entered, and in which I lost out. To my enormous gratitude, she invited me to come with her (as far as I recall there was no sustained guilt-tripping involved).
Six months into my Baroque voyage of discovery, it’ll soon be time to jump in at the deep end for the London Handel Festival. From fully-staged operas to concerts, solo recitals and pasticci, the next month will offer a veritable banquet of Handel in all his forms. Before the Festival proper gets underway, we had an aperitif to enjoy: something of an oddity.
(Europa Galante, directed by Fabio Biondi, at the Barbican, 20 February 2015)
In late 1737 the composer Antonio Vivaldi found himself in dire straits. He’d been planning to put on a series of operas in Ferrara for the Carnival, but all his plans had gone wrong when the religious authorities refused him permission to enter the city. (They took exception to the fact he was a priest who never performed Mass and was known to travel in the company of a female singer.) Faced with the prospect of losing an entire season’s income, Vivaldi pulled some strings and managed to get hold of the Teatro S Angelo in Venice. With less than a month to prepare, he needed to get together a programme.
It’s the Christmas holiday: a chance to escape from London and retreat to the countryside: time for family, log fires, games of charades, and hopefully a chance to work on my overdue posts. This seemed a good place to start. Conceived as a tribute to the French composer Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764) , this was my first introduction to Baroque ballet, which played such a crucial role in early operas and entertainments. It was a real feast for the eyes – and even more rewarding because I was able to see yet another Baroque legend live on stage: the doyen of French early music, William Christie himself.
(Barbican, Academy of Ancient Music with Robert Howarth, 4 October 2014)
When a friend asked if I wanted to see Monteverdi’s Poppea at the Barbican on Saturday, I said yes immediately. Poppea is a landmark in the history of opera: the first to weave a story around historical characters rather than myths or saints. I’ve only seen one production so far: the version directed by William Christie, with Philippe Jaroussky as Nerone, Danielle de Niese as Poppea and Max Cencic as Ottone. I haven’t written about it yet because I’ve been biding my time until I felt I had a better understanding of it; and this semi-staged version at the Barbican was the perfect way to put the Jaroussky version into context. Its abiding legacy will be a couple of extremely strong performances which I can use as a benchmark in the future.