Rockin’ Griselda (Cadogan Hall, 18 September 2014)
Ever notice how in 18th century opera seria the title character does not sing the biggest number(s)? This is a typical opera seria libretto, boasting a ruler who’s more open minded that his subjects1 and a strong woman who goes through much before the tangled plot is happily resolved. There are no murders but there’s a kidnapping attempt and a gracious pardon from on high. The libretto is rife with metaphorical storms and wild beasts.
Griselda: Hilary Summers (contralto)
Roberto: Andrew Watts (counter-tenor)
Ottone: Erica Eloff (soprano en travesti)
Gualtiero: Ronan Busfield (tenor)
Costanza: Kiandra Howarth (soprano)
Corrado: Tom Verney (counter-tenor)
Conductor: Thomas Foster | Opera Settecento
This was my first time at Cadogan Hall (off Sloane Square) and what an auspicious one! A few months ago I made time to listen to Griselda in its entirety and discovered there’s a lot more to it beside Agitata da due venti and Dopo un’orrida procella. I dully got a ticket to this concert performance and awaited it with some trepidation. It exceeded my expectations.
It seems to me that the major problem an opera director faces today is that the audience for which these operas were written had disappeared. (Captain Obvious alive and kicking on Amazon)
That is certainly not true for Baroque opera! The audience tonight – and every other night I’ve attended a Baroque opera – looked like they were already ancient when I was born. I’m sure they’re hiding hoop dresses and powder wigs in their closets. Why is it that young people would rather see Mimi whinge than watch in amazement as singers negotiate difficult coloratura? With Baroque horns! Come on, horns: they make the heart swell. Anyway 😉
Opera Settecento and Maestro Foster were very supportive. As often the case with Baroque, it was all about the singers and I was sat close enough to even see their facial expressions. Though a concert performance, all of them looked like they were having a good time and were wonderfully committed in their vocal acting. They must’ve fed off the audience’s appreciation, because they seemed more and more relaxed as the evening progressed. It’s hard to imagine them doing more had it been staged.
Contralto Hilary Summers in the title role had a strong stage presence and acting chops, a warm tone and meshed with the orchestra beautifully. Countertenor Andrew Watts as Costanza’s lover, Roberto, showed off impressive ease at the top and let it rip to much applause in his bravura aria. Kiandra Howarth, whom I noticed in JPYA’s Summer Performance this past July, was spirited throughout as Costanza. She had to take on that mofo, Agitata da due venti, and did admirably. I’d say the voice needs a bit more polish but I’ve no other complaints. Tenor Ronan Busfield as Griselda’s royal hubby, Gualtiero, already had some fiendish coloratura within the first five minutes of the show. He tossed it off with impressive confidence. Vivaldi made sure to give Gualtiero more of the same in the upcoming acts and he rolled with the punches. It’s a mofo part, I tells ya. Counternor Tom Verney didn’t have that much to sing as Corrado but got the other horned aria, Alle minacce di fiera belva and was appropriately heroic.
I left soprano Erica Eloff (as the stalkerish Ottone) last because WOW. I didn’t know of her, so she came out the left field. Holy mother of agility and lovely pianissimos! Gorgeous and confident singing, easy top, solid middle – and a lovely tone, especially for the first two soulful arias. Add to that great acting, although maybe playing Ottone’s defeat for laughs wasn’t very opera seria 😉 But you know I’m easily amused. She unquestionably aced Dopo un’orrida procella. But even before that, in fact, right from Ottone’s first lament it was obvious that she just owned it. It’s not every day that a singer just grabs you the first time you hear them and it’s even better when that’s live. The only thing I could hope for – and I’m only saying this because I liked her singing so much – is a bit more heft to the voice.
An outstanding evening. Pity Griselda is so seldom performed, it should get back into the repertoire as it’s easily one of the most entertaining Baroque operas I’ve heard so far.
- Gualtiero doesn’t care about social standing and marries shepherdess Griselda for love, much to his people’s displeasure. Kinda like in Anna Nicole, right? Poor girl marries rich and tries to be a good mother at the same time. Except with happy ending. Them 18th century optimists! ↩