Opera Settecento returned in top form with Handel’s 1730 pasticcio of arias from Vinci, Leo, Hasse, Orlandini and other Northern Italians with ethnically ambiguous names. Team London appreciated this year’s choice very much indeed.
Artenice: Marie Lys
Ormisda: John-Colyn Gyeantey
Arsace: Maria Ostroukhova
Erismeno: Nicholas Mogg
Palmira: Ciara Hendrick
Cosroe: Tom Verney
Musical Director: Leo Duarte | Opera Settecento
Tuesday was a lovely, warm day here in London so it was a pleasure to wander a bit in the Oxford Circus area, which is somewhere I go to often but only because it’s (also) the general neighbourhood of Wigmore Hall. Otherwise it’s a tourist Mecca – always crowded and 90% of the sights are clothes shops. The buildings are nice though, probably from Handel’s time.
Suffice to say I got there early and Leander (read her take on Ormisda here) and I pored over the libretto for clarification and a bit of chuckle at the 18th century translation (ruby lips, fine brows etc.). We noticed with some trepidation it was by the ubiquitous Apostolo Zeno, the very same poet who penned that jumble sale of plotlines called Faramondo (as well as many other equally questionable early 18th century libretti). We also tried to work out the storm arias judging by title.
So what is Ormisda about? I initially thought Ormisda was a woman, not having made the Ormuzd (and Ahriman) connection. It transpired he was the dad figure. Oh. His two sons are Cosroe and Arsace and his wife is Palmira. I clearly need to brush up on Persian history.
So, you wonder, why is that woman Artenice listed first? Well, it’s because Handel put this together for his star soprano Anna Maria Strada del Pó. Artenice is an Armenian (I think) princess, due to marry whoever of Ormisda’s sons will take the throne. Palmira, as queens are often wont to do, is scheming to get her son Arsace as heir, although Cosroe is the first born.
As can be seen from the Moon, Artenice and Arsace will fall madly in love, regardless of right of way. She will sing many arias whilst he, as the second uommo, will sing only 3 (I don’t know if any were cut) but these three are as effective as Cherubino’s two in Le nozze.
Cosroe, as primo uomo sung by Senestino, also sings a lot of arias, but, as one familiar with Verney can glean, they are soulful ones that march on gentle sentiment. He does have a storm one later on but it’s not on the same level of drama (though I seem to remember the coloratura as very difficult) as Arsace’s. Then again, he does manage to get the throne, so he doesn’t have that much to be upset about. Generally speaking his performance was fine, with yours truly having an interesting perspective on his (very smooth) coloratura production from sitting right above him in the gallery.
Interestingly, consumate 18th century actress/contralto Antonia Merighi sang Palmira and baddie Gernando in Faramondo (as well as Amastre in Serse). Hendrick had a nice even tone but you could be fooled trying to figure out who was the scheming queen between the two women singing women. She was nice all around. I could’ve done with a bit of storming around on stage/general pissed off queen strut.
Lys as Artenice was one of the highlights of the evening. Her voice has the light tone and sparkling quality that works best with Baroque soprano roles. She’s in possession of a very coloratura and endurance, as she and Verney had the most arias. Her Artenice put some feistiness into her acting, so it wasn’t all just lovey-dovey with lovebird Arsace.
Which brings us to the secondo uommo, here sung by Ostroukhova, the woman who has made me love Cecca notte. Team London were waiting to hear some proper Baroque flights of angst and we were not disappointed. Arsace’s three arias go from irked to furious to energetic. Cooking with gas! Some may remember that Ostroukhova has a dark yet sonorous mezzo voice that seems specifically made for this kind of material. She tailored her phrasing for palpable drama and I’m pretty sure nobody was in doubt Arsace was very conflicted throughout. She also put a very fine effort into varying her fioriture for the repeats. Leander and I thought Ann Hallenberg would approve of this performance 🙂 Last but not least, Team London appreciated her 18th century pirate look 😉 We were in Handel’s parish church, after all.
What of Ormisda? Here he’s very much a nice chap who tries to calm down different sections within his household. His arias rely a lot on long held notes – as far as I remember, or perhaps this was indeed Gyeantey’s strength? He has a smooth tenor voice which I for one could really see in later Italian repertoire (Nemorino?). Mogg’s Erismeno was there for one reason or another (one needs a bass, eh?) and from his one aria I could glean a beautiful bass tone and very clear diction.
Opera Settecento and Leo Duarte put on another of their enthusiastic performances1. From my perch behind the singers I could hear them especially well, with the rhythm section, oboes (beautiful interventions) and the harpsichord in the first half and the string section in the second (a bit of seat swapping happened). Some of the arias had very nice melodic lines (and the bass aria (?) had a rather interesting rhythm), lovely carried by the orchestra, who, as usual, sounds very tight and up to date Baroque.
Thank you to all involved, it made for a wonderful evening of Baroque music in a Baroque environment.
ps: I noticed with relief that St George’s has updated the toilet situation as much as the premises allow.
- To the point someone broke a string before the intermission. ↩
London Handel Festival 2017, our usual chance to see rising local singers, looks shorter and will begin later this year, stretching between 20 March and 24 April. General booking starts on 31 January.
- The RCM students are doing a staged Faramondo on 20/21/23/25 March
- Opera Settecento continues the pasticcio journey with Ormisda on 28 March
- London Handel Orchestra under Laurence Cummings brings out Bach’s St Matthew Passion (hopefully with period oboe) on 14 April at 14:30
- Oratorio-wise, there’s an all star Joseph and His Brethren on 24 April
- Handel could spin some nice duets and this year we have opera,innit? favourite Emilie Renard and 2015 Bucharest Poppea Louise Adler work some magic with La Nuova Musica on 20 April
Come for Handel (and contemporaries), stay for pub grub 😉 I mean, sparkling conversation.