Joie de Jouer.

In Baroque, Classical Music, Opera, Review on October 3, 2012 at 9:51 am

Review: Queens, Heroines and Ladykillers: Three eras of divas (Royal Festival Hall, Sunday 30 September 2012)

Anna Caterina Antonacci (Soprano)
The Orchestra of The Age of Enlightenment
Sir Roger Norrington (Conductor Emeritus)

Haydn – Symphony No. 85
Cherubini – Dei tuoi figli la made (Medea)
Gluck – Dance of the Blessed Spirits & Dance of the Furies
Gluck – O malhereuse Iphigénie (Iphigénie en Tauride)
Berlioz – Je vais mourir … Adieu, fière cité
Bizet – Symphony in C

The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment is – personally – one of the few orchestras that actively exude a real pleasure in their music making. And say what you will about Norrington’s conducting mannerisms, his enthusiasm – something I personally experienced when he conducted my school orchestra and choir when I was young – added to the almost festival atmosphere at the Southbank at the weekend.

The weekend’s concert was the opening in a quartet of concerts that will see performances by the Sarah Connolly and Emma Bell and a tribute concert to Lorraine Hunt-Lieberson. This opening concert’s soloist was Anna Caterina Antonacci who – following her performance as Cassandre in Covent Garden’s Les Troyens seems to be the toast of the opera loving crowd at the moment. At least in the UK.

The concert opened in fine style and set the standard for the rest of the evening in terms of the standard of music making with Haydn’s ‘La Reine’ symphony. It was clear from the start that the players and Norrington have a deep-rooted connection – a camaraderie almost – that delivers such a high standard of playing. Immediately Norrington established a real sense of momentum with crisp rhythms, careful attention paid to dynamics and equal attention given to leveraging a real range of orchestral colour which was particular evident in the elegant theme and variations which made up the second movement.

I admit I am not a fan of the two dances from Orfeo ed Euridice. I admit they are well crafted but they leave me cold. Despite the wonderfully nuanced playing in Blessed Spirits and the vigorous string playing in The Furies they still remained simply filler for me. It was a shame that something a little more adventurous wasn’t programmed.

Similarly the closing Symphony in C by Bizet veritably fizzed along with similar rhythmic and dynamic acuity. Usually I can never quite hear this symphony either without thinking it light weight or without Beecham’s performance in the back of my mind but that wasn’t the case at the Royal Festival Hall. From the opening bars the Norrington and the orchestra revelled in Bizet’s score and demonstrated that this symphony – of which Bizet himself was almost ashamed – was less a pastiche or confection of styles but a symphony worthy of being heard in its own right. It was a fitting end to a excellent evening.

The rest of the concert featured Signora Antonacci in excerpts from French opera. As I have already mentioned, Ms Antonacci seems to be the toast of the town at the moment after Les Troyens.

And rightly so judging from her performance on Sunday night. As many have noted, she does not have a voice that will appeal to everyone. Indeed the programme referred to her ‘extraordinary vocal timbre’ but like singers such as Edda Moser her technique is sure and confident. Her voice may strain at the upper end of her register and acquire an uncomfortable tone but her dynamic control was incredible and throughout her diction was clear

Her performance of short extracts from Cherubini’s Medea, Berlioz’ Les Troyens and – sadly – a paltry extract from Iphigénie en Tauride demonstrated that what she may lack in vocal beauty is more than compensated for by how she invests her singing with real dramatic intensity, emotional intelligence and stage presence. I am not a fan of Les Troyens but now I am determined to catch one of the cinema broadcasts of ROH’s production to see her performance for myself.

Yet strangely it was her encore – Les Tringles des Sistres tintaient from Carmen – that brought the house down. Unlike earlier, not only was there no sense of vocal strain but she produced a warm, almost velvety tone that was absent before.

On an aside, at the interval I did hear a few people comment negatively on the OAE’s new marketing campaign. ‘Not All Audiences Are The Same’ is a clever twist on the Orchestra’s original strap line and continues in the same humour of their early campaigns. Its a shame that there were more than a few empty seats on Sunday night. But bravo OAE for once again taking a different route to attract new audiences. Some bigger institutions should take note. And while I’m at it, nice website too.

As ever, The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment delivered a concert of the highest standard of music. They always find a way to invest evening the more commonly heard pieces with invention and insight. It seems that they didn’t record the evening for their own label which is a pity but I do look forward to the three remaining concerts in this set.

  1. […] the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment‘s campaign – Not All Audiences Are The Same – caught my eye. It very smartly points out […]

  2. […] in the OAE’s QH&L’s series did not completely match the white hot intensity of the inaugural concert of the series. Personally, I think that this had more to do with the programming than the […]

  3. […] Crespin. A great. And as Didon she has no rival. Only a few weeks ago I saw Anna Caterina Antonacci sing this very aria and while it was a mesmerising and musically intelligent performance, Ms […]

  4. […] OAE is at the forefront of bringing classical music to a wider audience and Nightshift is – judging from the raising of hands in the Queen Elizabeth Hall last night – […]

  5. […] first two concerts in the series Queens, Heroines and Ladykillers with superlative performances by Anna Catarina Antonacci and Sarah Connolly bode well for the remaining concerts in 2013. Definitely performances to book if […]

  6. […] Heroines and Ladykillers season by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment is turning out to be a cracking series. If this particularly concert didn’t have the fizz and sizzle of the preceding concerts I think […]

  7. […] musicians and singers, a perfect, or as near as perfect performance, that vital ingredient – enthusiasm – and for me personally, learning something new, often about a piece of music I thought I knew […]

  8. […] The series has been incredible strong in terms both of programming and the high standard of the performances. Here’s hoping that they revisit this kind of programming in future – perhaps a tribute […]

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