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.
(Brook Street Band at St George’s Hanover Square, 6 April 2018)
Some of you may remember that I saw Thomas Arne’s pastoral comedy The Judgement of Paris two summers ago, in the beautiful rectory garden at Bampton. This production for the London Handel Festival may have lacked the bucolic surroundings, but it made up for it in the quality of the cast, which marshalled a real dream team of young British singers. Yet the evening had a surprise in store: a bit of audience interaction, which pitted Arne directly against Handel and treated us to some highlights from the older composer’s Semele. Both The Judgement of Paris and Semele were based on libretti by William Congreve, whose sprightly, slightly rakish poetry still raises smiles.
This portrait isn’t immediately arresting, it’s true. The sitter, for all her charm, is no great beauty and she’s dressed with tasteful understatement. Her chief attraction is that pair of searching, intelligent black eyes. But, if you’d lived in the late 18th century, you’d have instantly recognised her as one of the most popular singers of the age. She made her debut at the age of seven and became the toast of opera houses throughout Italy, before being invited to Vienna by the Emperor himself. Here she became a favourite of Mozart and Salieri, both of whom composed music for her. She created the role of the Countess in Salieri’s School of Jealousy and was Mozart’s first Susanna in Figaro. And, amazingly, she was a Londoner: born and bred in Marylebone. On the eve of International Women’s Day, Bampton Classical Opera turned the spotlight firmly onto Anna Selina Storace (1765-1817), known as ‘Nancy’, focusing on music written especially for her.
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.
(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.
(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.
(David Bates and La Nuova Musica at St George’s Hanover Square, 20 April 2017)
Thanks to work travel, I haven’t been able to see all that much of the London Handel Festival this year, but I’d been looking forward to this event: a programme of duets performed by two of our most talented young singers, Louise Alder and Emilie Renard. These duets were chamber pieces written by Handel during his early period in Italy and the most famous of them was the cantata Amarilli vezzosa, composed in 1708. It was a rare chance to hear these early works: I only wish La Nuova Musica’s music director, David Bates, had kept a more sympathetic balance between orchestra and singers.
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.
Haydn: Symphony No. 34 in D Minor · Mysliveček: Arias from Semiramide · Haydn: La Canterina
(Classical Opera, directed by Ian Page, Wigmore Hall, 19 September 2016)
I deliberated long and hard about whether to rate this or not. After all, I don’t rate recitals but I do rate operas. Which was this? In the end, I decided that I would treat it as a recital, because the opera element was only one of three different sections. Plus, that saved me the trouble of having to think of a rating, so everyone’s a winner. But, had I rated it, it would have been very much a thumbs-up. This evening at the Wigmore was another stage in Classical Opera’s Mozart 250 project and introduced us to a variety of interesting works written in 1766, all performed with great elan by the orchestra and a quartet of admirable singers under the baton of Ian Page.
(Wigmore Hall, 2 July 2016)
On Saturday night it was time for the second contralto recital of the week, this time the multi-talented Nathalie Stutzmann and her orchestra Orfeo 55. You may remember that I saw Stutzmann for the first time at last year’s Halle Handel Festival, where she conducted (and guest-starred) in Philippe Jaroussky’s concert. Tonight she had the stage to herself, both conducting – a variety of beautifully-balanced orchestral pieces – and singing – a selection of arias ranging from the playful to the anguished. And all were by the doyen of Venetian style: the glorious Red Priest himself.