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Posts Tagged ‘Laurence Cummings’

By Giove

In Baroque, Classical Music, Handel, Opera, Review on March 30, 2015 at 4:40 pm

Review – Giove in Argo (London Handel Festival, Britten Theatre, Thursday 26 March 2015)

Liacone – Timothy Connor
Diana – He Wu
Iside – Kezia Bienek
Arete – Gyula Rab
Calisto – Galina Averna
Erasto/Osiri – Timothy Nelson
Chorus – Tara Austin, Katie Coventry, James Davies, Sarah Hayashi, Catriona Hewitson, Polly Leech, Julian van Mellaerts & Joel Williams

Director – James Bonas
Designer – Molly Einchcomb
Lighting Designer – Rob Casey
Choreographer – Ewan Jones

London Handel Orchestra
Laurence Cummings (Conductor)

It’s refreshing that you don’t have to rely on Covent Garden or English National Opera for performances of Handel operas, especially when they are performed with a consistency both of singing and staging that would put some productions at the bigger houses to shame.

Giove in Argo was written – or rather pulled together – during the final throes of Handel’s operatic career in London and his burgeoning move into English oratorio. None of the arias was newly composed for Giove, but rather lifted from other operas but even the richness of the arias themselves could stop Giove ultimately being a failure.

A shame as – despite its provenance – it’s a compelling opera especially when performed and staged so excellently by the London Handel Festival.

I saw the ‘second’ cast on the final night and overall the quality of their singing and interpretation was of a very high standard. Gyula Rab, in his final year at the Royal College of Music, definitely has a promising career ahead of him. His Arete – Giove in disguise – was both well-sung and acted. His tenor might be slightly heavier than you would expect in Handel but the warmth and depth of his tone – beautifully evident in Deh! V’aprite, O luci belle – was coupled with both impressive range and a vocal flexibility that made light work of Semplicetto! A donna credi? and Sempre dolci ed amorose. However, I would caution that like the rest of the cast, his returning da capos showed a lack of restraint in their often over ambitious ornamentation.

As Iside, the first of his two amours, Kezie Bienek is also destined for a promising career, with a mezzo that is burnished and darkly hued but with an impressive top and an agility that suits this music well. Her ‘mad scene’ was smartly tempered and shaded and also demonstrated that she is an accomplished actress. As her spouse, Timothy Nelson’s Erasto was equally impressive. Sporting a resonant and rich bass, he made much of what was – admittedly – not great Handel.

Galina Averina reveled in the role of Calisto. Her bright soprano made light work of the quicker numbers such as Lascia la spina and Combattuta da più venti and a very respectable Tornami a vagheggiar. But it was in the her slower numbers, Già sai che l’usignol cantando geme and in particular Ah! Non son io che parlo that she married it with a depth and weight that made the latter aria the highlight of the evening. And finally, having admired He Wu’s Queen of the Night previously at the RCM, I have to admit I was disappointed with her Diana. A distracting vibrato distracted in Handel’s glorious Ingannarmi, cara speranza and wayward intonation and troubled coloratura marred In braccio al tuo spavento.

Giove in Argo is unusual in having more than the usual number of choruses, but this production was blessed with a chorus that not only sang wonderfully but fully embraced their parts and acted wonderfully as well. From their opening chorus, through the cleverly directed Viver, e non amar to the sonorous S’unisce al tuo martir, these eight singers were an object lesson in clear, handsomely articulated singing.

James Bonas’ Argo might not have been an Arcadian paradise but this was a well-thought out and cleverly observed production, which must be commended for creating a convincing setting with minimal materials. His was a world, in many ways of both violence and brutality. The ‘trees’ of metal scaffolding, as well as affording the singers and chorus with ample climbing opportunities, underlined this harsh world as did the Samurai-inspired themed costumes for both chorus and Diana. Indeed, in many ways, Bonas’ approach reminded me of McVicar’s Clemenza di Tito for ENO many years ago. I noticed in the programme that he will be directing ETO’s Tales of Hoffman and I will be interested to see what his vision is for Offenbach’s opera.

The London Handel Orchestra, conducted by Laurence Cummings were, as ever, brilliant. From the opening notes of the overture to the final chorus, Cummings led singers and orchestra with authority that made me wish that more complete and staged operas could be offered during this exceptional festival.

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Seme(le)freddo

In Baroque, Classical Music, Handel, Opera, Review on March 13, 2015 at 9:02 am

Review – Semele (London Handel Festival, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Tuesday 10 March 2015)

Semele – Anna Devin
Athamas – Robin Blaze
Cadmus – George Humphreys
Ino – Ewa Gubanska
Jupiter (and Apollo) – Rupert Charlesworth
Juno – Louise Innes
Iris – Maria Valdmaa

London Handel Singers
London Handel Orchestra

Laurence Cummings (Conductor)

I admit that Semele is one of Handel’s more curious works, but one rich in invention.

And this performance of Semele was an auspicious start to the London Handel Festival this year. I’ve always enjoyed this festival and realised as I sat down in the QEH, that I had missed last year’s festival completely. Fortunately, this year I am definitely seeing Giove in Argo and might just squeeze in a few other performances.

The cast overall was incredibly strong, but it did take a while for the individual performances to both settle down and warm up. However I must start with the London Handel Singers. Handel’s choruses in any of his oratorios are integral to the plot, but in the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Cummings managed to take it to an even higher dramatic level – excellent singing, clarity of line and excellent diction were combined with a rich palette of colours which made each and every chorus magnificent, not least the final chorus, a resounding Happy, Happy shall we be. The last time I heard choral singing of this quality was in ENO Thebans, sadly a production since overshadowed by the latest management fracas on St Martin’s Lane.

Of the soloists I must start with Louise Innes’ excellent Juno. She was alone in bringing a real sense of dramatic characterisation to the stage. Combine this with her rich and at times almost fruity mezzo and hers was a Juno not to be crossed. Both Hence, Iris hence away and Above Measure were delivered with vocal and regal authority combined with elegant ornamentation on both returning da capo sections.

I’ve seen Anna Devin a few times over the last few months, and clearly her star is in the rapid ascendant. But in truth, it took her a while to settle. Her normally bright and splendid soprano was often slightly harsh at the top of her range and her first aria, The morning lark to mine accords his note – a fiendishly difficult aria at the best of times – often slipped from her control. But as this Semele trod the path to her own fiery demise Ms Devin gripped the music more effectively. Both Endless Pleasure and Myself I shall adore – with the flighty coloratura – were delivered with more confidence and authority as was the arioso I am ever granting. However as the evening progressed I did think that perhaps less ambitious ornamentation in the returning da capos may have helped a little. Personally the highlight for me was her liquid and limpid Oh sleep, why dost thou leave me, which she sung with effortless grace and delicacy. However her performance was slightly let down by a lack of dramatic impetus. The bite that she found for I am ever granting was not then translated in her final demise. A lack – on this occasion – of a breadth of vocal colour meant that it limped slightly awkwardly to its end.

As her beau, Rupert Charlesworth was very impressive. His technique came to the fore in arias such as Lay your doubts and fears aside, where even at Cummings’ speeds, he delivered spontaneous and seemingly effortless coloratura. His vocal timbre is perfectly suited to Handel’s music – Where e’er you walk was an object lesson in both technique and interpretation as was Come to my arms, my lovely fair.

Ewa Gubanska’s Ino was slightly hampered by unclear diction but there as no questioning her complete commitment. Turn, hopeless lover, with its cello obbligato spun out so exquisitely by Katherine Sharman, was one of the highlights of the evening and demonstrated why Ms Gubanska won last year’s singing competition. Her lunchtime recital is one I am definitely going to try and make. Maria Valdmaa’s Iris was brightly and elegantly sung and clearly these two artists have promising careers ahead of them in this repertoire.

The Athamas and Camus of Robin Blaze and George Humphreys completed the septet of singers. I have long been an admirer of Blaze – is recording of duets with Carolyn Sampson is excellent and his performance as Katie Mitchell in ENO’s Jephtha many years ago will stay with me for a long time. While his voice may have lost some of its sheen and flexibility, his performance was incredibly strong and accomplished and he made much of music that – admittedly – is a little less than typically inspired for Handel. And George Humphreys wonderfully resonant bass – impressively hued but clear – ensured that his presence was felt both as Cadmus and Somnus.

The London Handel Players performed with both gusto and accuracy – responding to Cummings direction superbly, even at his fastest of tempi – and considering the simplicity of the orchestration, the players uncovered a wealth of colour and dynamic range.

Despite an uncertain start, this Semele shone a light on this not-often performed work that is full of inventiveness with soloists, chorus and orchestra delivering strong performances. And while it was sad to hear of the passing of founder Denys Darlow before the performance started, this was a fitting tribute to the man who has made the London Handel Festival such a success.

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