Ensemble Hesperi: From Caledonia to the Capital!

From Caledonia to the Capital!
Chamber music and song by Scottish eighteenth-century composers
Ensemble Hesperi, Angela Hicks, Rory Carver
St Mary Le Bow Church, 17 September 2021

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Financial support from the Continuo Foundation allowed Ensemble Hesperi to increase their usual line up of four instrumentalists for this concert of music by 18th-century Scottish composers. Their funding also allowed the concert to be filmed for later release. Their programme was based on the composer James Oswald, known as the “Scottish Orpheus”. He was born in Fife in 1710 and was a musician and dancing master in Dunfermline before spending time in Edinburgh. He left Scotland for London in 1741 where he published several collections of Scottish tunes. He become Chamber Composer to George III and spent the last few years his life in Knebworth House, having married the widow of the Lytton owner.

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BBC Proms: Bach & Handel

BBC Proms: Bach & Handel
Monteverdi Choir & English Baroque Soloists

Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Ann Hallenberg
Royal Albert Hall, 1 September 2021

Handel: Donna, che in ciel HWV 233
Bach: Christ lag in Todes Banden, BWV 4
Handel: Dixit Dominus

Eschewing all the social distancing provisions that the BBC Proms had arranged for orchestras, John Elliott Gardiner’s own Monteverdi Choir & English Baroque Soloists crammed tight onto the (specially enlarged) Royal Albert Hall stage for a performance of two pieces seemingly written for the same Sunday in 1707 by two 22-year-old composer, Bach and Handel, both at the start of their very different careers. This review is based on the BBC Four televised broadcast.

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Silbermann Days: {oh!} Orkiestra Historyczn

Silbermann Days
Oh! Frohlockung
Concerti for two orchestras by Handel, Fasch, Richter and others
{oh!} Orkiestra Historyczna
Martyna Pastuszka, director, Arvid Gast, organ
Stadtkirche Frauenstein and livstream. 3 September 2021

Under the auspices of the Gottfried-Silbermann-Gesellschaft (the Gottfried Silbermann Society, celebrating its 30th anniversary), the 24th Silbermann Days festival (based in the region between Freiberg, Dresden and the Ore Mountains) opened on 3 September with a concert combining organ music with pieces for double orchestra. It was held, and lives-treamed, from the Stadtkirche in Frauenstein, some 33km southwest of Dresden. I am reviewing this from the live stream, which can be viewed here.

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Suonare è danzare

Suonare è danzare
Academy of Ancient Music, Laurence Cummings, Bojan Čičić
Live from West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge. 12 February 2020

Muffat Armonico Tributo Sonata in G
Bach Sonata in E minor for violin and keyboard, BWV 1023
Telemann Concerto polonoise in B flat major
Handel  Sonata in G Op.5, No.4

It is often said by music commentators that practically all Baroque music is fundamentally based on dance. Dance was certainly a key part of 18th century life, a fundamental part of the education system, and underpinned many aspets pf social and political discourse. This is the first of a three-concert mini-festival from AAM Live 2021, live-streamed (via ticket purchase) from their Cambridge home in the West Road Concert Hall. The Acadamy of Ancient Music under Laurence Cummings (pictured), their Music Director designate, directing from the harpishcord, joined with the AAM leader, violinist Bojan Čičić for a programme of music in celebration of dance.

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Mattheson: The Melodious Talking Fingers

Mattheson: The Melodious Talking Fingers
Colin Booth, harpsichord
Soundboard SBCD 220. 69’47

Mattheson CD

Many music lovers will have heard the name of Johann Mattheson (1681-1764), and may perhaps have heard of his 1739 Der vollkommene Capellmeister, his rather shaky polemic on music theory, but few will know much of his music. An enigmatic figure in 17th century Hamburg, he is perhaps best known today for nearly killing Handel during a fight in the Hamburg opera, Handel apparently surviving by a well-placed button that deflected Mattheson’s sword. His early career as an organist (at the long-since demolished Mariendom), singer and opera composer was combined with that of an Anglophile diplomat, serving as secretary to the English Envoy Extraordinary to the Hanseatic city-states. He is sometimes referred to as the first music critic. This recording is of his complete Die Wolklingende Fingeraprache (translated on the recording as The Melodious Talking Fingers), first published in 1735.

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OAE Player: Messiah

Handel: Messiah
Orchetstra & Choir of the Age of Enlightenment, Christian Curnyn
recorded in St Paul’s, Knightsbridge, released 27 December 2020

This recording of Messiah was made over a couple of days in the lead up to Christmas under London’s just-applied Tier 4 Covid-19 regulations. It was rehearsed and recorded in the sumptuous mid-to-late 19th century Anglo-Catholic church of St Paul’s, Knightsbridge. One of the first of the Oxford Movement churches, it’s 1843 galleried preaching-box design gained some Victorian bling with the addition of Bodley’s 1892 chancel with its rood screen and reredos which, along with the 1870/1920 wall painting and panels, form the visual background to the performance.

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Messiah

Handel: Messiah
Academy of Ancient Music, Richard Egarr

Live-stream from The Barbican, 19 December 2020

In what is becoming the ‘new normal’, the annual Academy of Ancient Music’s London performance of Handel’s Messiah was live-streamed (from behind a paywall) from London’s Barbican Hall. The socially-distanced, modest-sized period instrument orchestra (5,4,2,2,1 strings) and 17-strong choir filled the entire width of the stage with no apparent loss of acoustic focus in the recorded sound – the acoustics were excellent. Like any well-designed concert hall, the Barbican Hall retains the same acoustics whether or not there is an audience presence, the empty seats designed to have the same acoustic properties when empty as when sat upon. As far as I can tell, the concert is no longer available to watch, although this website might lead you to a possible viewing. The programme notes can be accessed here.

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Ensemble Augelletti: Arcardian Wilderness

Arcardian Wilderness
Ensemble Augelletti
Brighton Early Music Festival
24 October 2020

Arcadian Wilderness

One of the many festivals going online is the Brighton Early Music Festival with ten events broadcast on YouTube and Facebook between 23 October to 1 November 2020. They are then available for seven days afterwards. It is possible to view for free within that period, but viewers are encouraged to buy online tickets and donate. One particular concert that caught my eye, and ear, was from the young group Ensemble Augelletti. The Facebook link to the concert is here.

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Handel: Ode for St Cecilia’s Day

Handel: Ode for St Cecilia’s Day
Bach Choir of Bethlehem

Bach Festival Orchestra, Greg Funfgeld
Analekta AN 2 9541

Cover of Handel Ode to St Cecilia CD

The first thing to understand is that this is not the Bach Choir of Bethlehem – or at least, not of that Bethlehem. This Bethlehem is in Pennsylvania – and the Bach Choir is a 120-year-old amateur choir. It is the oldest Bach choir in America and gave the first performances in the USA of Bach’s B minor Mass and the Christmas Oratorio. This recording reflects their anniversary.

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Georg Friedrich Händel: Neun Deutsche Arien

Georg Friedrich Händel: Neun Deutsche Arien
Penelope Appleyard, Florisma
Convivium Records CR043. 52’00

Handel’s Neun Deutsche Arien (Nine German Arias) were composed around 1725, some sixteen years after his arrival in London. In sharp contrast to his compositions at the time (which included the operas Tamerlano, Rodelinda, and Alessandro), these nine short arias, all but one in da capo form, are intimate small-scale pieces for a solo singer, a solo instrument and continuo bass. Continue reading

Handel Uncaged: Cantatas for Alto

Handel Uncaged: Cantatas for Alto
Lawrence Zazzo
Guillermo Brachetta, Jonathan Manson, Andrew Maginley
Resonus/Inventa Records INV1002. 74’26

 

This nicely-planned programme brings together cantatas for alto voice and continuo from Handel’s remarkably productive early years in Italy. The principal item is the world premiere recording of the conglomerate cantata Amore Uccellatore. This combines two cantatas, Venne voglia (HWV 176) and Vendendo amore (HWV 175) together with an additional sequence of recitatives and arias into a single cycle of ten arias. It is from an anonymous manuscript in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge that has only recently been credited with reasonable confidence to Handel. Continue reading

Handel: Concerti grossi

Handel: Concerti grossi Vol 2. Opus 6: 7-12
Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, Bernhard Forck
Pentatone PTC 5186 738. 80’29

Although the concept and the inspiration for Handel’s Op.6 Concerti grossi date back to his early years in Italy and Corelli’s concerto da chiesa and concerto da camera, they were put together and published much later in his career. Ten of the 12 concertos were composed for performance during oratorios and odes during the 1739–1740 season. These included the two that were performed on St Cecilia’s Day, during Alexander’s Feast and the Ode for St Cecilia’s Day. Others followed in December and February 14 including two during L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato with two more in March and April in revivals of Saul, Israel in Egypt and L’Allegro. Concertos 9 and 11 borrowed from some of Handel’s earlier organ concertos (No.9 borrowing from the Cuckoo and the Nightingale organ concerto) that had fulfilled the same function as interval entertainment or musical add ons to oratorio performances. Continue reading

Handel in Ireland Vol.1

Handel in Ireland Vol.1
Bridget Cunningham (harpsichord)
Signum Classics SIGCD478. 72’52

This is a rather delayed review of a CD released in 2017. It is part of an ambitious series of Handel recordings from Bridget Cunningham and her London Early Opera, including Handel in Italy and Handel at Vauxhall, but this one is for solo harpsichord. This recording explores “some of the myths and mysteries surrounding Handel’s visit from London to Dublin in 1741 and reflects on the influences that Handel experienced from being in Dublin and also the inspiration he gave to others through his music and skills of improvisation at the keyboard”. Continue reading

Handel Singing Competition 2020

London Handel Festival
Handel Singing Competition: Semi-Final
St George’s, Hanover Square, 6 March 2020

UPDATE: It is intended that the final of the competition will be held at some future date.

I would normally wait until the final of the annual Handel Singing Competition before mentioning some of those who I heard in the semi-final but, with the Coronavirus cancellation of the entire London Handel Festival, this turns out to be the only review of the festival that I will be writing. The final would have been this evening, 24 March, so it seems an appropriate time to post this review of the semi-final. The reason I try to attend semi-finals of competitions like this is that I frequently hear people who, in my view, should have got through to the final but, for reasons best known to the judges, don’t make it. The London Handel Festival’s annual Handel Singing Competition is no exception to this situation.

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Vox Luminis: Dixit Dominus

Dixit Dominus
Vox Luminis, Lionel Meunier
St John’s, Smith Square, 18 December 2019

Attrib. Buxtehude? Magnificat BuxWV Anhang 1
Bach Nun komm der heiden Heiland BWV 61
Handel Dixit Dominus HWV 232

With the exception of Bach’s Advent cantata Nun komm der heiden Heiland, this was a St John’s, Smith Square Christmas Festival event refreshingly devoid of any specific reference to Christmas. The renown Belgian group Vox Luminis and their director, Lionel Meunier, made a very welcome return for a performance of music from German composers of the 17th and early 18th century, each writing in different styles and for different audiences. Continue reading

A Baroque Odyssey: Les Arts Florissants @ 40

A Baroque Odyssey
40 Years of Les Arts Florissants
William Christie, Paul Agnew
The Barbican, 8 December 2019

Eavesdropping on a birthday party can be fun, even if you sometimes wish it wouldn’t go on for quite so long. This one did, apparently finishing around 10.30, although I had to leave before 10 to catch my last train home. In celebration of their proud 40-year history, Les Arts Florissants are touring a mixed programme of Handel, Purcell and the French composers Charpentier, d’Ambruis, Lully and Rameau. Under their founding Director William Christie and  Associate Musical Director Paul Agnew, five soloists, a large orchestra and 23-strong choir demonstrated just why they have been so important over the past 40 years. Like any good party, it is perhaps best to leave what happened in the room, in the room, so I will not attempt a critical review – which is probably just as well because I am not sure that I could think of anything critical to say. Continue reading

Handel: Aminta e Fillide

Handel: Aminta e Fillide
Fair Oriana
Opera Settecento, Leo Duarte
The Handel Friends
St George’s, Hanover Square, 28 November 2019

It was entirely appropriate that this concert, given under the auspices of The Handel Friends, should take place in Handel’s own church of St George’s, Hanover Square, just round the corner from his surviving home. After 30-minutes of instrumental music and sumptuous interval refreshments (all part of the deal) came an inspirational performance of Handel’s pastoral cantata Aminta e Fillide, performed with the soprano duo Fair Oriana (Angela Hicks & Penelope Appleyard).

Aminta 4.jpegPenelope Appleyard & Angela Hicks (Fair Oriana) Continue reading

Prom 55: Handel’s Jephtha

Prom 55: Handel’s Jephtha
Scottish Chamber Orchestra & Chorus, Richard Egarr
Royal Albert Hall, 30 August 2019

Following on from last year’s Theodora, the BBC Proms Handel cycle continued with Jephtha, Handel’s last oratorio. It was composed in 1751 as his sight was failing. At one point in the autograph score he wrote “unable to go on owing to weakening of the sight of my left eye.” It is rather telling that note occurs at the chorus that concludes Act 2, How dark, O Lord, are thy decrees, All hid from mortal sight. Despite Handel’s personal difficulties at the time, and the frankly bizarre Biblical story upon which it is based, it is one of his finest oratorios, full of the most glorious music for six solo singers and chorus with a succession of attractive and dramatic arias linked by relatively short recitatives.

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Favourites: Telemann and his Subscribers

‘Favourites’
Telemann and his Subscribers
Tabea Debus, recorder
TYXart TXA18107. 66’34

Recorder player Tabea Debus is one of the most impressive young musicians of her generation. She has already featured many times in this review website for her CDs and concert performances (see here). Her latest recording is a clever combination of two genuine Telemann pieces for recorder (the Sonata in C, TWV 41:C2 and Concerto in F, TWV 51:F1) forming a sandwich with a filling of four suites of pieces collated and arranged by Tabea Debus from Telemann and three of the composers who subscribed to Telemann’s music publications. Telemann was one of the pioneers of music publishing funded by inviting pre-publication subscriptions – an early form of crowd-funding. Amongst those subscribers were Bach, Handel and Blavet, the three composers whose pieces are collected into suites on this recording. Continue reading

Handel: Belshazzar

Handel: Belshazzar
The Sixteen Choir & Orchestra, Harry Christophers
The Grange Festival
The Grange, Northington, Hampshire. 28 June 2019

I think that few opera-goers would argue that Handel oratorios should not be staged as operas, despite the risk of letting opera directors loose on them. They are generally full of operatic images and action and usually lack the textural and plot bafflement and cross-dressing of many of Handel’s proper operas, although their Biblical stories come with their own element of bafflement. Their English language text can be rather clunky, as it certainly is in Belshazzar, but the momentum of the music and the large role for a choir makes them a particularly effective musical and theatrical show.

Following on from their recent partnership with the Academy of Ancient Music for Figaro The Grange Festival partnered with the choir and orchestra of The Sixteen (celebrating their 40th birthday) for a fully staged version of Handel’s Belshazzar. the story is taken from the Book of Daniel, and recounts the fall of Babylon at the hands of Cyrus the Great and the freeing of the Jewish nation from captivity. Directed by Daniel Slater with Robert Innes Hopkins as the designer, the setting, staging and direction was, with a  few exceptions, excellent. A wall of Pink Floyd proportions was initially spread across the stage front, with the tip of a Breughelesque Tower of Babel peeking above the ramparts. Said tower swivelled through 180 degrees to reveal the internal settings. Continue reading

LHF. Handel: Athalia

London Handel Festival
Handel: Athalia
(HWV52)
London Handel Orchestra & Singers, Laurence Cummings.
St John’s, Smith Square, 29 April 2019

In what must have been an extraordinary week of music in Oxford, in July 1733 Handel was invited by Oxford University to provide musical entertainment (for his own profit) during the so-called, and rarely enacted, ‘Publick Act’, a higher degree ceremony and general benefactor’s shindig. Over an eight-day period, Handel presented Esther, the Utrecht Te Deum, and Deborah in the Sheldonian Theatre, and Acis and Galatea in Christ Church College. Alongside those performances was the premiere of the oratorio Athalia, given in the late afternoon of 10 July after the Vice-Chancellor’s speech, and repeated the following morning at 9.30 before the presentation of honorary degrees. This performance was the closing event of the 2019 London Handel Festival, and was conducted by their Artistic Director, Laurence Cummings with their house band and choir, the London Handel Orchestra & Singers. Continue reading

LHF: Handel Venceslao

London Handel Festival
Handel: Venceslao
Opera Settecento, Leo Duarte
St George’s, Hanover Square, 26 April 2019

As the London Handel Festival (LHF) draws towards its closing events, they presented the last, and one of the more interesting of Handel’s three pasticcio operas (the other two being Elpidia and Ormisda in 1724/5. These were made up of music pinched from other composers and loosely gathered together into a single opera. Venceslao was first performed in 1731 and contained music ‘borrowed’ from Giacomelli, Hasse, Lotti, Orlandini, Porpora, Porta, and Vinci. The Venceslao of the title is Wenceslas, but not the one that looked out on the Feast of Stephen. This one was Bohemian King Wenzel (1271-1305) who became King of Poland as Wenceslas II. He also appears in Dante’s Divine Comedy, but in very unflattering form. He was a descendant of St Wenceslaus I, the 10th-century Duke of Bohemia who inspired the Christmas carol – he posthumously upgraded to King.

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LHF: Costly Canaries

London Handel Festival
“Costly Canaries”
London Early Opera, Brigit Cunningham
St George’s, Hanover Square, 11 April 2019

London Early Opera’s programme explored the ‘Costly Canaries’ gathered by Handel from around Europe during the early years of the Royal Academy of Music, the aristocratic corporation founded 300 years ago, in 1719. Handel was ‘Master of the Orchestra’ with responsibility for composing his own works to Italian libretti, adopting mostly Italian operas for performance in London, and engaging singers and players, usually from Italy. Enormous fees were paid to many of these singers, leading to Mainwaring description of them as ‘costly canaries’. The three singers that Handel procured highlighted in this concert were Margherita Durastanti, Anastasia Robinson (an Italian born and trained, but English singer) and, later, Anna Maria Strada del Pò. They joined others such as Francesca Cuzzoni and Faustina Bordoni, the two singers whose fabricated rivalry was whipped up by Academy audiences. These imported stars were paid extraordinary amounts of money, leading to the ultimate collapse of the Academy in 1729. Continue reading

Handel: Berenice

Handel: Berenice
Royal Opera House / London Handel Festival
Linbury Theatre, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. 1 April 2019

Handel’s Berenice was first performed in May 1737 in the Covent Garden Theatre, now the home of the Royal Opera House.  It was a tricky time for Handel and the London opera scene, with two opera houses competing for a limited audience. Handel promoted a large-scale 1736/7 season, but none of his new operas (Armino, Giustino, and Berenice) was successful. Handel also suffered a serious decline in his health, not least suffering a stroke in April 1737 that paralysed his right hand. It seems that Berenice only had three performances, probably rehearsed and directed by John Christopher Smith Jnr.  It returns to the present day Covent Garden (or, at least, the bowels of the present day Covent Garden) for the first time since its premiere, in the newly restored basement Linbury Theatre, in a Royal Opera House production in conjunction with the London Handel Festival. Continue reading

LPO Isle of Noises: Handel & Purcell

Isle of Noises
London Philharmonic Orchestra
The Schütz Choir, Sir Roger Norrington
Royal Festival Hall, 30 January 2019

Handel: Suites from The Water Music 
Purcell: Dido and Aeneas

The London Philharmonic Orchestra opened their year-long series Isle of Noises (a celebration of British music) with a concert that, by all the normal conventions of concert programming over the past 50 years or so, shouldn’t have happened. Since the early music period-instrument revolution, and as the pioneering work of the early period specialists took root, most traditional orchestras took fright and stopped performing any music from Mozart or before. Gone were the days of a Mozart concerto opening a concert that would finish with Mahler. In recent years, some of those same early music specialists have enthused modern instrument players and orchestras, by far the most prominent being Sir Roger Norrington, perhaps most notably for his work with the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra. Continue reading

Zachow: Complete Organ Works

Friedrich Wilhelm Zachow: Complete Organ Works
Chorale Settings • Chorale Partitas • Free Organ Works
144 pages  • ISMN: 979-0-001-14049-2 • Softbound
Edition Schott ED 9922

Friedrich Wilhelm Zachow (1663-1712) is best known as the teacher of the young Handel in their hometown of Halle. He was organist of the principal city church, the Marienkirche, also known as the Marktkirche Unser Lieben Frauen and Liebfrauenkirche, a post held earlier in the 17th century by Samuel Scheidt.  The little 1664 organ on a gallery above the altar that Zachow and Handel certainly knew still exists. JS Bach was offered the post in succession to Zachow, but turned it down, leaving it until 1746 for his son WF Bach to eventually become the organist. Zachow’s father was from nearby Leipzig where he was town piper. His church music was criticised as being too long and complicated by the pietest clergy, who preferred something more approachable. He taught Handel violin, oboe organ, and harpsichord along with music theory. He teaching was clearly successful, as Handel became organist of the Halle Cathedral aged just 17. His later compositions show several influences from Zachow, as well as borrowings.

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BBC Prom 74: Handel – Theodora

Handel: Theodora
Arcangelo, Jonathan Cohen
Royal Albert Hall, 7 September 2018

Of all Handel oratorios, the one that is probably most likely to put you off Christianity (or put you even further off Christianity) is Theodora. Set during the reign of the Emperor Diocletian, the story is of two love-struck Christians who refuse to honour the Roman gods, and then vie with each other as to which of them is to be put to death as a result, each insisting on taking the place of the other until the exasperated Valens, President of Antioch, has them both sent to their heaven. It was unusual for an opera or oratorio to end badly for the leading lights, which perhaps explains its lack of success at the time. The text doesn’t bear much scrutiny either, the earlier arias of the Christian contingent and their confidence that the Lord would provide protection ‘here and everywhere’,  and the chorus’s response that the Everlasting One was ‘Mighty to save in perils, storm and death’, seemed a little ill-judged in the forthcoming circumstances.   But, setting aside the silly plot, the text and music express aspects of love, religious freedom, bloody-mindedness, and the assumptions that Christians are far more musically intelligent than ‘heathens’. The latter is a particular feature of Handel’s music, with the choir switching between Heathen and Christian to distinctly different music, the former generally rather four-square, clumpy, and harmonically unadventurous, the latter tuneful and svelte.  Continue reading

BBC Prom 26: Serpent and Fire

Serpent and Fire
Il Giardino Armonico, Anna Prohaska
Royal Albert Hall. 2 August 2018 

Serpent and Fire is probably a better concert title that ‘Two Suicidal African Queens’, but Anna Prohaska’s exploration of the musical characters of Dido and Cleopatra certainly delved the emotional issues that caused both Queen’s demise. Despite her plea to ‘forget my fate’, Dido’s end is etched in all music-lovers minds, and it closed this late-night BBC Prom. Purcell’s Ah! Belinda providing the opening, introducing the Anna Prohaska’s beautifully clear and pure voice, and her use of the gentlest of vocal inflexions, quite correctly, as an ornament, for which I will readily forgive her the occasional tendency to slightly slur notes together. She later joined the very rare catalogue of early music singers who can produce a proper trill, rather than just relying on vibrato. The curious pauses in Ah! Belinda were the first of a number of directorial oddities provided by conductor Giovanni Antonini.

Anna Prohaska.jpg

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Glyndebourne: Saul

Handel: Saul
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Laurence Cummings
Glyndebourne Festival Opera. 22 July 2018

Glyndebourne’s new production of Handel’s Saul was one of the highlights of the 2015 season, gaining rave reviews from, amongst others, me – see here, which also gives more background to the oratorio and the production. Glyndebourne has a long tradition of staging Handel oratorios, and I have no problem at all with that, subject to my normal reservations about what some some opera directors get up to with their productions. This was not entirely devoid of some concern on those grounds, but the sheer spectacle of Barrie Kosky’s direction and the musical integrity of Ivor Bolton’s direction allayed most of my concerns. The same applies to this revival, at least musically, on this occasion conducted by the equally distinguished Laurence Cummings, directing the same Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Glyndebourne’s resident period instrument orchestra.

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Iford Arts: Partenope

Handel: Partenope
Contraband, Christopher Bucknall
Iford Arts, 23 June 2018

Since 1995, Iford Arts have been promoting the summer opera season in the magnificent Peto Gardens of Iford Manor, just south of Bradford-upon-Avon. The manor was the home of the Edwardian architect and landscape designer Harold Peto from 1899 until his death in 1933. Peto created the Italianate gardens that clamber up the hillside above the classically-fronted mediaeval Iford Manor, with terraces littered with architectural bits and bobs, including a recreation of an Italianate cloister. The cloister is turned into an intimate opera venue, with the hillside gardens providing a spectacular setting for pre-opera picnics and mid-opera biscuits. Sadly, this year is the last year that Iford Manor will be hosting Iford Arts and Opera at Iford, and the search is on for a new venue for them to continue to build their impressive Young Arts and Education Outreach programmes and to continue providing high standard opera in the Bath hinterlands. This year they presented three operas, Candide, Madam Butterfly, and Handel’s Partenope, alongside other events.

IMG_20180623_192320770.jpg
Handel’s Partenope is an entertaining venture into cross-dressing, sexual and political intrigue, disguise, and, in the original 1730 production, some impressive special effects, including a battle that employed a stage army. The story is a slight, but attractive one, with scope for drama, betrayal, humour and sexual goings-on. Partenope is Queen of Naples. She has three princely admirers: Arsace, Armindo, Eurimene (a newcomer), and later, Emilio, heading an invading army, bent on a marriage alliance or war. Soon after the opera opens, Partenope’s favourite, Arsace, notices the striking similarity between the curious ‘Armenian’ Prince Eurimene to his former lover, Rosmira, not realising that it is indeed her, but disguised as a man. As a man, Eurimene becomes a rival for the Queen’s affections whilst, as a woman and ultimately only recognisable to Arsace, she proceeds to mock and goad Arsace to the extent that the Queen demands that they fight a duel. Arsace, wanting to reveal Eurimene’s true identity, demands that they should both fight topless. Unfortunately for any pervs in the audience, Eurimene gives in at this point and reveals herself as Rosmira. It was first performed in February 1730, in the King’s Theatre. Continue reading