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Posts Tagged ‘Rebecca Bottone’

Stand Up And Be Conti’d

In Baroque, Classical Music, Opera, Review on January 25, 2014 at 5:54 pm

Review – L’Issipile (Wigmore Hall, Wednesday 22 January 2014)

Issipile – Lucy Crowe
Eurinome – Diana Montague
Rodope – Rebecca Bottone
Toante – John Mark Ainsley
Learco – Flavio Ferri-Benedetti
Giasone – Lawrence Zazzo

La Nuova Musica
David Bates (Director)

Generally unknown, Francesco Bartolomeno Conti is the latest composer to be ‘rediscovered’ and we are fortunately that L’Issipile is seeing the light of day once again. It is one of two operas he completed in the year of his death and is rich with musical invention, contains clearly etched characters and has a keen sense of dramatic momentum.

Plaudits must go to Flavio Ferri-Benedetti for bringing this opera to a modern audience. His academic research and evident passion should be congratulated.

Interestingly this libretto – the second Metastasio wrote specifically for Vienna – didn’t enjoy the success of his other works. Apparently the ‘bloody’ subject matter wasn’t popular with the 1732 Carnival audience. But I am not sure that is the only reason. Other operas of the period featured both suicides and murders – think Mitridate Eupatore (1707), Tamerlano (1731) and even later in Vienna Les Danaiïdes (1784) for example – and the quality of the music in my opinion outweighs any perceived weakness in the libretto.

I agree that perhaps it wasn’t ideally suitable to the Carnival season but perhaps Conti’s untimely death contributed to it not being revived again except for once in Hamburg five years later and also because ultimately the plot itself isn’t ‘typically’ Metastasian.

Issipile might be the ‘monarch’ but she isn’t the Enlightened despot more commonly associated with that leading role. Rather her emotional journey is more erratic and emotionally wrought. The villain is neither vanquished or saved by ‘reason’ or magnanimity but takes his own life and therefore ultimately the “lieto fine” – the return of balance and order – is somewhat diminished and doesn’t counterbalance the massacre at the beginning.

For these reasons perhaps it didn’t make comfortable listening for the aristocratic audience.

Yet, Conti etched out convincing characters from among the Metastasian characters-as-ciphers who more normally represent elevated principles or undeniably haughty emotions – duty, filial love, honour for example.

This is particularly true of Eurinome and Rodope. The former’s accompanied recitative and aria at the start of Act II was on a par with similar scenes in Handel and Conti’s other contemporaries. But I would also argue that Rodope’s emotional arc was the most complete. Her first two arias – beautifully crafted with some unexpected harmonic shifts – made clear her (misplaced) affection for Learco. And with his final rejection, her final simile aria was one of sharply defined emotion – anger and defiance.

In contrast – and perhaps deliberately by Conti – the music for the traditional characters of Toante, Issipile and Giasone was more ‘stock in trade’ as if reinforcing their more constricted emotions. That is not to say that the music was any less notable. Issipile’s simile arias were technically magnificent. And both Toante and Giasone – both their second arias respectively – were lessons in pre-Classical simplicity.

The arias for Learco were similarly well crafted and full of swagger. I particularly enjoyed the cello obbligato of the second aria for example.

And throughout Conti made effective use of accompanied recitative – not only at the beginning of the second act but also in the closing scenes.

If the music was of a high standard, then the music making was – for the most part – magnificent.

In the title role Lucy Crowe demonstrated an unerring sense of style, combined with flawless technique. Her bright and incredibly agile soprano – bursting with spirit and fire – not only negotiated the great expanses of coloratura but in her final aria of the first act – reminiscent of Gluck– she coloured her voice to express the anguish Issipile faced.

Personally however Rebecca Bottone – Rodope ‘enceinte’ – stole the show. Also in possession of a piercingly bright and lithe soprano, she expressed Rodope’s emotional journey through some of the most beautiful singing I have heard in a long time. Non che sai was the highlight of the evening.

Diana Montague as Eurinome shoed why she is a singer of both distinction and great ability. Joining the ensemble at late notice her performance was a tour de force of emotion and musicianship. It was also a pleasure to see John Mark Ainsley – whose ENO Orfeo remains with me to this day – in the role of Toante. A darker tenor than some would normally expect in a role such as this, he elegantly and smoothly managed the tricky coloratura and da capo ornamentations with grace.

And of course, Lawrence Zazzo was – both musically and dramatically – an impressive Giasone. His final aria – so skillfully performed – demonstrates why he remains in such demand as ever. I look forward to his forthcoming disc with La Nuova Musica.

Ultimately however I did wonder if the role of Learco should have been awarded to a more accomplished singer? There was no denying the enthusiasm Ferri-Benedetti brought to the role but personally his vocal technique felt just a little unfinished. The coloratura wasn’t as clean, even or defined as it should have been and there were problems of both intonation and breath control. And I have to admit that his “pantomime villainy” somewhat undermined Metatastio’s lofty sense of drama and led the audience to laugh at inopportune moments.

Supporting the singers, David Bates and La Nuova Musica were an incredible ensemble. A feisty ensemble, they clearly enjoyed performing Conti’s music. Bates drew some exquisite colours and timbres from the ensemble and also maintained the dramatic momentum throughout the recitatives.

Without a doubt, L’Issipile is an opera worthy of revival – the quality of the music and the high standard and enthusiasm of performance was extraordinary and memorable.

This revival – two hundred and fifty years after its premiere – deserved the ovation it received.

A recording please.

Handel’s Opera In Operetta’s Clothing

In Baroque, Classical Music, Handel, Opera, Review on May 30, 2013 at 10:01 am

Review – Imeneo (The Barbican, Wednesday 29 May 2013)

Rosmene – Rebecca Bottone
Clomiri – Lucy Crowe
Tirinto – Renata Pokupić
Imeneo – Vittorio Prato
Argenio – Stephan Loges

Choir of the AAM
Academy of Ancient Music

Conductor – Christopher Hogwood

Imeneo was Handel’s penultimate opera for London and like its successor – Deidamia – failed to win the approval of the London audience.

This is surprising. While it doesn’t have the grandeur of Giulio Cesare, the dramatic sweep of Ariodante or the emotional pathos of Rodelinda, Imeneo is a real gem. Individual arias appear occasional on recital discs and there is a good recording available on CPO featuring Ann Hallenberg and Siri Karoline Thornhill that is definitely worth a listen.

Handel might have called it an operetta but this is an opera of surprises. As well as some beautifully crafted arias – especially for Tirinto – I do believe that Imeneo features the only trio in one of his operas bar Orlando. And it has to be said that there are similarities between the two. Indeed there is a sophistication to Handel’s music for Imeneo – the sometimes abrupt harmonic changes as well as the sometimes distinctive structure of the vocal and instrumental lines – that belies the impression of Imeneo’s simplicity.

Listening last night, it made me think that perhaps Handel was making something of a statement to his audience. Perhaps a not-so-subtle attempt to show them what they might be missing if his Italian operas were to fail. Fortunately for us all he took that genius and applied it to his oratorios.

From the overture Hogwood and his ensemble dug into the music with an innate sense of musicianship and infectious enthusiasm.

As you would expect of the Academy of Ancient Music and Hogwood himself, it was sprightly and rhythmically alert performance. Due care was given to dynamics and – with the current Baroque vogue for over-embellishment – the da capo ornamentation was very restrained.

And the soloists were – for the most part – very strong.

Lucy Crowe was on excellent form as Clomiri. Her bright and lush soprano was perfectly suited to the music and she cut through the coloratura of the role with ease. From her first aria V’é una infelice she demonstrated formidable technique with an innate sense of style with its hushed da capo. And her Third Act aria, Se ricordar ten vuoi was suitably agile and clean.

Renata Pokupić’s Tirinto was a similarly strong performance. Her rich mezzo may not have always carried over the orchestra but she invested her singing with real panache and passion. A personal highlight was her aria in the Third Act. With fine and beautifully articulated playing from the strings, Pieno il core raised the emotional temperature of this Arcadian opera by more than a couple of degrees. And in Sorge nell’alma she showed off her formidable technique.

The title character Imeneo was strongly performed by Vittorio Prato. His Italianate baritone suited the role like a glove. In both his arias – according to the programme written for William Savage who was relatively inexperienced – he sailed through the music with a burnished and even tone throughout. Stephan Loges provided a fine foil as Argenio. His simile aria on Andronicus and the Lion was beautifully delivered as was his opening aria, Di Cieca notte, even if his overall performance was slightly marred by some sluggish embellishments at times.

Sadly, the Rosmene of Rebecca Bottone was disappointing. Her bright – almost too bright – soprano was lacked depth or colour and I could her a rather distracting beat in her voice. There is no doubt that she could manage the music on the page but it was a one-dimensional portrayal. For the most part – and particularly in the mad scene – she sang but didn’t perform Rosmene.

And the AAM Chorus rounded off the performers with incredibly fine and full-bodied singing of the choruses.

So overall it was an incredibly enjoyable night.

Imeneo might never make it to the stage again – and perhaps might not be heard in London again for some time – but Hogwood and his performers have ensured that it won’t be forgotten by many of those who attended this performance.

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