Catone in Utica (London Handel Festival, 17 March 2015)
Marzia soprano: Erica Eloff
Emilia soprano: Christina Gansch
Arbace mezzo-soprano: Emilie Renard
Andrew Watts Christopher Robson
Cesare bass-baritone: Christopher Jacklin
Conductor: Tom Foster | Opera Settecento | St. George’s Hanover Square
It was Handel’s habit to put on a pasticcio every season where a libretto was matched with interchangeable arias from other operas and composers. This one is from 1732 and is based on Leonardo Leo’s opera of the same title about good ol’ Roman
Grumpy Cat man of principle Cato. It’s an opera libretto so only marginally about ethics. Mostly it’s about who marries/loves whom.
First off Opera Settecento: buttah sound, played with gusto and spot on all night, even allowed themselves mad playfulness with one number that came dangerously close to a stomping techno beat.
For whatever reason Andrew Watts wasn’t available, so veteran Christopher Robson stood in for him quite valiantly considering his age. It must sound ironic right after my last post that no other countertenor beside a kind old timer could fill in at short notice. Or maybe such is the demand that even Handel Festivals are coming up short…
My number one reason for going was Erica Eloff, who wowed me last September in Griselda, also with Opera Settecento. Certainly she did an excellent job here as well, though for sheer pizzaz her arias were better in Griselda. But I noticed the difficulty of the stuff she took on here, with a lot of complex tempo and mood changes along with the expected runs and range leaps. She had the honour of finishing the night with Va solcando at a brisk pace (lovely clear articulation from the orchestra), kitchen sink and all. Lovely musicality and very good control of the voice – on to Adriano in Siria next month 🙂 (yes, gentle reader, the Baroque boat merrily sails on).
Christina Gansch, whom I remembered from last year’s Brigitte Fassbaender Masterclass, took on the more dramatic role of
Cornelia Emilia, widow of Pompeo and plotter of revenge against Cesare. She had some strikingly written arias to sing (especially the second I think), though of the slow and seething sort, which unfortunately I find trying. However I remember good use of dynamics, some fine developments in the da capos and a bit of venturing into the lows. She did take her revenge with her one bravura aria at the end in which she let rip with glee, pretty much stealing the show. Nice fuller voice already, maybe we’ll see her in some Mozart soon?
For a Baroque opera it was rather unsual to have a bass-baritone take on the hunk role and the fastest, cheeriest, most melisma-happy numbers (the Vivaldi techno-stomp Benchè nasconda was one of his – cheers to Leander for jotting the title down in her review, I’m resistant to programmes… imagine that faster and more angular). Jacklin was energetic and gleefully into the music but a bit potato-mouthed and producing not the cleanest of runs – at least as heard from my pew at the back. That considering the venue had mic help and the ladies above showed constant very good to excellent projection in comparison (though perhaps the mic help ocasionally clashed with Gansch’s tone).
I left mezzo Emilie Renard last because – well, because she’s a mezzo, you’ll say. That too, but really, she had the best stage presence, which I think won most everybody over – judging by the ever warmer reception of her interventions. It’s not everyday you see somebody have so much fun with their character. Arbace’s cocky interactions with the nonplussed and increasingly annoyed Marzia were laugh-out-loud hilarious. Also when Arbace confronted the towering Cesare I had no doubt Arbace would resort to headbutting his rival if that’s what it took. Perhaps a Serse is in the future? And surely Annio. If I must bitch about something is that her voice isn’t very memorable and her projection wasn’t as good as the other ladies’.
St George’s Hanover Square is quite obviously a church – a rather goodlooking one off Regent Street, though pews will be pews, trying on your back after a while. Apparently Handel himself attended it. Nonetheless, the most mysterious thing about the church is the toilets. In some places access to the loos requires a key. Here it’s a secret handshake and a quick trill 😉 kidding. The thing is, they are in a closet the size of a biggish wardrobe accessed via a perilously winding narrow staircase. You do get to know your fellow opera goers as you end up spending the intermission chit-chatting on the way to the can. So seeing as how concerts are often held here, how about the toilets get a bit of sprucing up?