Lawrence Zazzo: Weeping Philosophers

Lawrence Zazzo

(BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert, at the Wigmore Hall, 1 May 2017)

I’ve been waiting for two-and-a-half years to see Lawrence Zazzo in the flesh. In the first flush of my Baroque obsession, back in October 2014, I bought his album A Royal Trio and fell in love with his rendition of Handel’s Va tacito e nascosto. Ever since, I’ve longed to see him live and finally got my wish in this BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert at the Wigmore Hall. Languishing in the realms of the early Baroque, this recital presented a cornucopia of lute-songs and cantatas by Caccini, Frescobaldi, Strozzi and Durante. Zazzo was accompanied by three gifted musicians: Silas Wollston on organ and harpsichord; Daniele Caminiti on archlute and baroque guitar; and Jonathan Rees on bass viol and viola da gamba. By heaven, it was worth the wait.

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Philippe Jaroussky: Bach and Telemann

Philippe Jaroussky

(with Le Concert de la Loge, at the Wigmore Hall, 1 December 2016)

In June 2015, when we met Philippe Jaroussky after his Festival Concert in Halle, we asked when he’d next be coming to London. His answer was non-committal and typically modest: he wasn’t sure; he didn’t know if the English were all that fond of what he did. But I hope Thursday’s concert at the Wigmore Hall showed that there’s hope for us yet. The recital had sold out months ago and my brilliant friend only managed to secure tickets by incessantly badgering the box office for returns. The hall was stuffed to the gunwales; the atmosphere was palpable; and yet there were times you could have heard the smallest of pins drop. Refined, elegiac and utterly professional, Jaroussky showed us all once again why he remains the hottest countertenor ticket of all.

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Xerxes: George Frideric Handel (1738)

Handel: Xerxes

★★★★

(English Touring Opera at the Hackney Empire, 8 October 2016)

Xerxes and Spitfires both rank pretty highly on the list of things I get excited about, but I never imagined I’d have cause to refer to them both in the same sentence. Now that has all changed, thanks to English Touring Opera’s revival production, which transplants our favourite brat-prince to the airfields of the Battle of Britain. It opens with the glorious sight of our misguided king serenading a Spitfire (plane tree – plane – Spitfire – brilliant), as he contemplates his new campaign to rule the skies of Europe, and it’s sheer fun from there on in.

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Elpidia: George Frideric Handel (1725)

Handel: Elpidia

★★★½

(Opera Settecento, St George’s Hanover Square, 31 March 2016)

Herewith another post from the depths of the drafts folder, which I hope still may be of some interest. I’m keen to post it because I’m a great fan of Opera Settecento’s habit of unearthing rare and unusual operas and this performance featured some of my favourite young singers. Many apologies for its lateness, but it all happened around the time of my uncle’s death and I wasn’t really up to blogging at the time. But I had a few scribbled thoughts and wanted to jostle them into some sense of order, so that I can have a record of this enjoyable and particularly complex pasticcio.

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Ercole sul Termodonte: Antonio Vivaldi (1723)

Vivaldi: Ercole sul Termodonte

★★★½

(Spoleto Festival, 2006, Il Complesso Barocco with Alan Curtis)

We’ve discussed, on a previous occasion, the indignities inflicted on opera singers, but the sadomasochism of Alcina has just been comprehensively trumped. I’d like to say that one remembers this production of Ercole sul Termodonte for its wonderful music, or for the simple and effective set designs, or for the generally admirable cast. But this would be disingenuous. Cast, crew and orchestra must have known, from the moment they began rehearsals, that this opera would be remembered forever for Zachary Stains performing the title role of Ercole stark naked, with nothing to preserve his modesty except the occasional fortuitous shadow cast by the paws of his lion-skin cloak.

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Artaserse: Johann Adolf Hasse (1730)

Hasse Artaserse

★★★

(Festival Valle d’Itria, Martina Franca, 2011)

In late February 1730, Hasse’s Artaserse opened at the Teatro S. Giovanni Grisostomo in Venice, mere weeks after Leonardo Vinci’s version premiered in Rome. (I think you all know the story of this opera by now. However, if you’d like to refresh your memory, check here and possibly also take a look here.) Musically there’s quite a contrast between the two versions. Vinci’s simple lyricism gives way to Hasse’s ornamentation, bells and whistles. And it’s not just the music that’s different.

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Arminio: George Frideric Handel (1737)

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★★★½

(Badisches Staatstheater, Karlsruhe, 17 February 2016)

So, by a remarkable stroke of luck, my business trip coincided with the Karlsruhe Handel Festival. By even more remarkable good fortune, Parnassus were staging their new production of Handel’s Arminio on the night I arrived and there was an excellent seat still free right in the centre of the eighth row of the stalls. As they say, it would’ve been rude not to.

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Franco Fagioli: Arias for Caffarelli

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(Wigmore Hall, with Il Pomo d’Oro directed by Riccardo Minasi, 13 November 2015)

It’s just over a year since Franco Fagioli made his solo London debut at the Wigmore, a night which was memorable for several reasons. It was my first Baroque concert, and it also introduced me to a wonderful circle of friends with whom I’ve since travelled to operas and concerts across Europe. When we were in Halle in June we heard a very similar programme to that offered in Fagioli’s second London recital at the Wigmore last Friday, but his great strength as an artist is that he never sings an aria the same way twice. For me, the London concert was more adventurous and more emotionally engaged than the recital in Halle; and, in any case, there were two mouthwatering new additions to the programme: Se bramate d’amar and Crude furie. Franco Fagioli doing Serse? Now this promised to be seriously good fun.

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Xerse: Francesco Cavalli (1654)

Cavalli: Xerse

★★★★ ½

(Theater an der Wien, 18 October 2015)

Before Handel and before Bononcini there was Cavalli. This first take on the Xerxes story doesn’t enjoy anywhere near as much fame as its younger cousin, and to my knowledge has only been recorded once, in 1985, with the title role set for countertenor and sung by René Jacobs. It’s high time for another recording and, if Emmanuelle Haïm and her excellent cast could have their arms twisted to do it, we’d be in for a treat.

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L’Incoronazione di Poppea: Claudio Monteverdi (1643)

Poppea: Vienna

★★★★

(Theater an der Wien, Vienna, 19 October 2015)

Before seeing Poppea, I’d been warned it was ‘hardcore Regietheater’, a phrase which would normally provoke serious qualms. But even I know better than to go to a Claus Guth production expecting togas and sandals. Despite my conservative tastes I can appreciate regie if it’s done well. It depends whether the director’s taken time to think about the story, or whether he’s simply thrown in sharks, parrots or a live bull for the sake of it. Guth certainly fell into the first category. His production isn’t traditional, but it’s based on an intelligent reading of the story. It toys with the audience’s expectations and makes you think afresh about the dynamics between the characters. This Poppea is good regie: deceptively playful, with a heart of darkness.

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