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Maria Ostroukhova recital (London Handel Fest, 14 March 2016)

Also part of the London Handel Fest 2016 was mezzo Maria Ostroukhova’s lunch time recital, comprising madrigals and Handel arias. It was fun to return to St. George’s Hanover Sq., Handel’s neighbourhood church and the place I last visited for Catone in Utica 1 year ago almost to the day. Thadieu and I showed up with time to spare and enjoyed the bright and cheerful atmosphere of the church.

Part I (with James Bramley on lute)

Occhi miei
Da poi ch’un orsa
Mille amorosi lacci
Se l’aura spira
Tu ch’ai le penne amore
Voglio di vita uscir

The show started with just voice and lute, enough for the singer to get into the mood and us to get (re)acquainted with the beauty of tone. I’d say Ostroukhova’s voice is a bit heavy for this delicate fare but it was enjoyable to focus on her dense, confident and evenly produced voice. She finished with a bit of melodramatic Monteverdi, of which I had learned via Sara Mingardo. Ostroukhova set the mood for the afternoon by delivering it in a fiery1 fashion.

Part II (with Les Bougies Baroques conducted by Ian Peter Bugeja on harpsichord)

Presti omai l’Egizia terra (Giulio Cesare)
Mi lusinga il dolce affetto (Alcina)
La bocca vaga (Alcina)
Ira, sdegni… O stringerò nel sen (Teseo)
Lascia ch’io pianga (Rinaldo)
Empio, dirò, tu sei (Giulio Cesare)
Cieca notte (Ariodante)
Vo’far guerra (Rinaldo)

For the Handel arias Ostroukhova was joined by the solidly supporting Les Bougies Baroques. With Presti omai l’Egizia terra we were immediately introduced to secure vocal ornamentation and heroic strength. Out of the gentler moments, Ostroukhova gauged the right mood of uncertainty laced with tenderness for Mi lusinga il dolce affetto.

It was interesting to hear Ruggiero’s moment of major confusion back to back with the willful La bocca vaga. This one sees the young man confronting the one whom he perceives as a rival. Ostroukhova’s no-nonsense rendition reminded us that – his gentle side notwidthstanding – Ruggiero is perfectly capable of beating the crap out of any opponent.

If you’re lucky a recital makes you discover new or old things. This one made me discover something I had heard only the other day but which had not, up to yesterday, caught my attention: Ariodante’s lament Cieca notte. Ostroukhova had the right vocal weight and emotional gravitas to make me notice the grand heartbreak of this miniatural mad scene. There is, after all, more to Ariodante than suicidal tendencies and delirious joy. Along with the stomp and tantrum arias it convinced me that Ostroukhova’s earthy, resonant mezzo voice is at its most enjoyable in powerful, high energy moments. In other words, furious knights and scorned women 😉

Not for nothing did the show end in fireworks with her blasting rendition of Armida’s stomping Vo’far guerra which also gave Bugeja the opportunity to rock out at the harpshichord, using Handel’s own virtuosic improvisation.

  1. as thatdieu put it.