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.
(Teatro Regio Torino, directed by Ottavio Dantone, 2017)
My New Year’s Day treat was this opera, staged at the Teatro Regio in Turin earlier this year and now released on DVD. I already knew the CD recording, conducted by Dantone with a slightly different cast, but I always find it difficult to truly appreciate an opera until I’ve seen it staged. The adventurous Dehggial and Thả Diều actually went to Turin to see it in the flesh, and their posts whetted my appetite; not that it needed much whetting. How could I resist an opera about Darius I, which neatly forms the third instalment of a Baroque Persian trilogy, alongside Xerxes and Artaserse? Served up with intrigue, romance and a very, very silly princess, this proved to be a deft comedy, well worth the wait.
When two young sisters are abandoned on the doorstep of the Pietà in Venice in 1695, they enter the care of an extraordinary institution: part foundling hospital, part secular convent, and part conservatorio. The girls of the Pietà learn to love God through the medium of music, whether by playing an instrument or by singing in the weekly Masses, which draw admiring crowds to the chapel beyond the grille that prevents any of the performers being seen. And the soloists of the Pietà become stars, their talents as well-known as any opera singer’s, even though they must remain screened away. Of these two abandoned sisters, one, the playful and exuberant Chiaretta, will turn out to have a voice that wins her legions of admirers. The other, Maddalena, looks in vain for an instrument that sparks the inner core of her being. But then she discovers the violin, at around the time that the Pietà hires a young priest to help with giving lessons: a virtuoso violinist and budding composer with flaming red hair, named Antonio Vivaldi.
(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.
(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.
(Handel House, 8 October 2015)
Having been delighted by Cathy Bell‘s Venti turbini the other week, I’d really been looking forward to this recital at Handel House focused on Ludovico Ariosto’s Renaissance epic. The programme was split equally between Handel (Orlando and Alcina) and Vivaldi (Orlando furioso), and Bell was accompanied by two other members of last year’s Handel House Talent group: Marie van Rhijn on harpsichord, and Caoimhe de Paor joining them on recorder for a formidably complicated piece of Vivaldi, on which more later. Fittingly, given its source, it was a recital that offered rage and romance in equal measure. Continue reading
(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.