Love and Death in Venice

Venetian Mask

(Les Talens Lyriques with Christophe Rousset, Wigmore Hall, 26 February 2018)

As the city shivered in winter’s grip on Monday evening, those of us at the Wigmore Hall could imagine ourselves among the campi and canals of 17th-century Venice. The brilliant French ensemble Les Talens Lyriques were back for another London concert under the baton of their director Christophe Rousset. You may remember that I thoroughly enjoyed their recital with Emiliano Gonzalez Toro and Anders Dahlin at St John’s Smith Square last year. This concert was very similar in spirit, including three of the same pieces, but it rang the changes by swapping the tenors for two talented sopranos: the Dutch Judith van Wanroij and the Belgian Jodie Davos. Through the music of Rossi, Cavalli and maestro Monteverdi himself, they carried us deep into timeless tales of fateful passion, all-consuming love and grand anguish.

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Mitridate Re di Ponto (1770): Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

michael-spyres-as-mitridate-c2a9-roh-photo-by-bill-cooper.jpg

★★★★

(Royal Opera House, 7 July 2017)

Mitridate, king of Pontus, is missing, presumed dead. His two sons, Farnace and Sifare, have returned from the battlefield to skulk around their father’s palace and engage in the traditional pastime of operatic royalty: viz. each scheming to beat the other to the throne. Farnace, billed as the ‘evil’ son, is considering an alliance with the wicked Romans. Sifare, the ‘good’ son, is deeply in love with his father’s intended bride, the beautiful princess Aspasia. Plots are well underway when – shock horror! – it turns out that Mitridate isn’t actually dead at all, but has allowed such rumours to spread in the hope of testing his sons’ loyalty. When he returns to Pontus, the scene is set for a right royal show-down. One of Mozart’s first operas, written when he was only fourteen, this has its issues – numerous issues – as a piece of work, but it’s presented in the Royal Opera House’s classic and extravagant production, with a really splendid cast.

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Zefiro Torna: Les Talens Lyriques

Botticelli: The Birth of Venus

(St John’s Smith Square, 7 June 2017)

As part of their celebrations for the 450th anniversary of Monteverdi’s birth, the French ensemble Les Talens Lyriques were on stage in London for one night only, for a selection of madrigals and operatic scenes written by the great composer. I’d never seen them perform live, although I have many of their recordings, and was eager to see them at last under the baton of Christophe Rousset. The recital was made even more irresistible by the singers: two tenors whom I like very much: the Swiss Emiliano Gonzalez Toro, whom I’ve seen in several other roles, and the Swedish haute contre Anders J. Dahlin, who sings Dario in my much-loved recording of Vivaldi’s Incoronazione di Dario. My expectations were high and yet, remarkably, they were exceeded by this elegant concert which blended heartfelt grace with dramatic verve.

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Xerxes: George Frideric Handel (1738)

Xerxes: Handel

★★★★

(Les Talens Lyriques, with Christophe Rousset, Dresden, 2000)

You might remember that Xerxes at the ENO was the first opera I saw after the Baroque revelations of the summer and, although there was much to enjoy in that production, I itched to hear it performed in the original Italian. There isn’t a huge amount of choice on DVD at the moment so I ended up with this 2000 performance from Dresden. I held off watching it for a while, as it had an entirely female cast of principals and a visual aesthetic which looked bleak, to say the least. Then, one day I happened to see a clip of the opening scene on YouTube. Paula Rasmussen’s Ombra mai fù stopped me in my tracks.

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