Pergolesi’s Adriano in Siria (Cadogan Hall, 16 September 2015)

… after a rather unexpected Monteverdi detour (which was more intense than documented by posts or in the comments), I return, gentle reader, to the brink of Classicism event of last week. For my convenience I mash Monteverdi, Cavalli, Handel, Rameau, JC Bach and Papa Bach all in one big “baroque” soup, though my more meticulous side is rolling its eyes.

I don’t know where to fit Pergolesi, because his opere buffe sound very much of the Classicism to me and this serie one ain’t as Baroque as the kind of stuff Caldara was writing at the time (Tito) – or Handel, for that matter (Orlando, Arianna in Creta, Ariodante and Alcina). His stuff has that Italian quality that makes it all a bit lighter and more melodic, less stiff in feel if not in structure.

Adriano’s toasty effigy

Adriano: Michael Taylor
Farnaspe: Erica Eloff
Osroa: Gyula Rab
Emirena: Maria Ostroukhova
Sabina: Augusta Hebbert
Aquilio: Cenk Karaferya
Conductor: Leo Duarte | Opera Settecento

Had Metastasio been in attendance last Wednesday, I would’ve asked: why did you call this opera Adriano in Siria? Why not Farnaspe in love? His answer: because I wrote it for the Emperor’s1 name-day, duh. But keep on reading between the lines, dehgg.

Pergolesi set the text to music for Queen of Spain’s birthday in 1734. In his version, Adriano, Emirena, Sabina and Aquilio were sopranos, Osroa and Dario (cut here, not a Metastasio character) were tenors and Farnaspe was sung by Caffarelli. Even with a star of that calibre things didn’t go very smooth. It looks like Pergolesi simply was unlucky when it came to the premieres of his opere serie.

281 years later, this London premiere was very fine indeed. I enjoyed JC Bach’s version earlier this year but this resides a few notches above. I’m quite a fan of La serva pedrona, heard some of Lo frate ‘nnamorato and was recently spellbound by the famous Stabat Mater. His Adriano in Siria is as good as any to spur a Pergolesi frenzy chez dehggi. Yes, at the beginning of last week my house was buzzing with Pergolesi. Then the rain stopped and… er.

The cry of the peacock and the howl of the gnarly oak

adrianopergolesi

Taylor (Adriano) vs. Rab (Osroa)

Back at Ye Olde Cadogan Hall (where I heard it’s better to get seats at the front so I did) things were off to an auspicious start via a lively sinfonia with horns. Quite soon came Osroa’s strong oak aria (Sprezza il furor del vento), one of my favourite bravura arias in JC Bach’s setting too. But this one is even better and tenor Gyula Rab was satifyingly “oak-y” – lovely tone, proud, precise delivery. Throughout the night he sang in the no-nonsense way that befits the Parthian king – except for the moment of paternal emotion where he has a long arioso about Emirena. Interesting job Pergolesi and Rab, giving a slightly wider dimension to Roman-hating, headstrong Osroa.

We know we’re still Baroque because the first two acts end with a long aria sung by our title char… I mean by Farnaspe. When the oboist made his way up front I knew we were in for something good. Hero + wind instrument = match made in musical heaven. Pergolesi knew it too, he milked the voice-oboe duet for 20min and a half 😉 kidding. It was a long lament but beautifully written and kept interesting by Eloff’s attention to detail, with lots of slight mood changes to the returning phrases. Her voice has the kind of gentle nobility/quiet heroism that fits Metastasio’s sensitive men so well; no aria feels too long when a voice cradles you like that. How about Sesto in the near future?

Michael Taylor was obviously there to have a good time, his Adriano the spoiled but generous after all kind of tyrant. I liked how he exploited every moment of uncertainty Emirena showed in hopes his Adriano would get lucky. Nice tone, not puny; humorous and well managed, though the you’re all enemies aria – the one time Adriano really gets annoyed – was a bit same-y.

As I remarked to Leander during intermission, Eloff seems to get full voiced sopranos as her damsels in distress. Good thinking, as dueling high sopranos could get a bit much over 3 hours. Here all three ladies had very distinctive voices. Hebbert’s Sabina was the typical high soprano, Eloff herself the very lyrical voice and Ostroukhova the voluptuous-toned Emirena.

My first encounter with Ostroukhova was last year Grimeborn’s Coronation of Poppea. I still think of her as one of the best Ottavias I’ve heard. In this case her voice stood out thanks to its density, which is more akin to marmalade then honey. You don’t often hear this type of confectionery in this repertoire but it fits the lyrical arias and troubled determination of Emirena’s character. Let me remind you that Aquilio advises Emirena to deny any involvement with Farnaspe (whom she loves), which causes Adriano to think she’s fair game and Farnaspe to get to the brink of an aneurysm. For her part she’s thickly stuck in a mess of suffering and misunderstanding but has to put on a poker face. When Emirena and Farnaspe are finally reunited their duet comes of rather hypnotic, thanks to these two inward looking voices.

Sabina’s noble, lyrical arias gave Hebbert several opportunities to show off beautifully held notes in the upper register. I enjoyed her elegant, minimalist (by Baroque standards) performance and would love to hear her again in something similar.

Aquilio – as intermediary between Adriano and various others, mainly the ladies – talks a lot and in this performance also had one aria. Karaferya is in possession of a feathery countertenor voice which didn’t quite comes off as shrewdly scheming but wasn’t unpleasant. I suppose it shows off best in the kind of stuff Vince Yi prefers.

Opera Settecento played with the kind of youthful aplomb we’re used to by now. I basked in sound chiefly due to the very clear and enjoyable interplay between the two sides of the orchestra. Aside from the lovely and gutsy oboe solo/voice duet, I need to mention the horns, which were delightful and added that extra oomph when called into action.

A very rewarding evening in a warm and friendly atmosphere (especially in the lobby, when the lavish – and free – programmes showed up 😉 ) with excellent music enthusiastically performed. The word is Opera Settecento’s next “installment” is a(nother) Handel pasticcio in the Spring.


  1. same chap who got Tito two years later. 
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About dehggial

Mozart/Baroque loving red dragon

Posted on September 22, 2015, in baroque, cadogan hall, live performances and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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