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.
(Freiburger Barockorchester with Andrea Marcon, Aix-en-Provenance, 9 July 2015)
Spare a thought for the modern opera singer. You spend years training and auditioning; you finally make it and become a leading soloist, a master of your craft; and then you find yourself at Aix, hands bound and blindfolded, singing while some guy you met at the first rehearsal last Tuesday beats you with a riding crop in front of a thousand-strong audience. At which point do you begin wondering, ‘Where did this all go wrong?’
(Georg-Friedrich-Händel Halle, with Orfeo 55 and Nathalie Stutzmann, 4 June 2015)
In early June, all Baroque roads lead to Halle in Saxony-Anhalt, which holds an annual Handel festival in honour of its most famous son. As a Londoner by adoption, I confess to a slight sense of possessiveness over Handel, who moved away from Halle at the age of eighteen (as opposed to the 47 years he spent living and working in London), but I suppose we can share him. And it is true that Halle’s festival feels considerably sleeker and higher-profile than London’s equivalent earlier this year: there are posters and banners everywhere; every performance was packed with people; and the programme featured a positive galaxy of international Baroque talent.
(Teatro Real, Madrid, with Les Arts Florissant and William Christie, 2010)
In the wake of the Barbican’s semi-staged Poppea, I decided to have another go at the DVD of this 2010 version from the Teatro Real in Madrid, to see how the two productions compared. It had completely bewildered me first time round. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I enjoyed it much more now that I had a better appreciation of the opera and its context. There are certain elements that I think the Barbican did better, but the Madrid version, with its stellar cast, certainly throws a long shadow. It’s staged, which is a big plus for me; but it completely overshadows the Barbican in one other important way as well.
Over the weekend I treated myself to another opera DVD, this time one which transported me back to the very earliest days of the art form, to Rome in 1632. At this date the Counter-Reformation was in full swing and the Baroque was just coming into being. Gianlorenzo Bernini, who would become the supremo of 17th-century Rome, was 25 and had been asked to design the stage set for Stefano Landi’s new religious oratorio Sant’ Alessio. The production available on this DVD attempts to recreate the feel of that first performance and I admit I came to it with some trepidation. This all felt a very long way from the exuberance of the 18th century.
(with I Barocchisti [CD] and Concerto Köln [DVD], directed by Diego Fasolis, 2012)
Before we start, I should emphasise: the composer is not the artist Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), but a completely different person, the Neapolitan Leonardo Vinci (1690-1730). I must also add a disclaimer. As you may remember, I know nothing about the technicalities of music. In this field I am, more than ever, merely an enthusiastic amateur. That’s especially the case in Baroque music, which must be one of the most technically complex and elaborate areas of classical music. However, as I’ve said before, I’m fascinated by the phenomenon of the castrati and, as such, this particular opera (and performance) was one I couldn’t resist.