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Posts Tagged ‘Susanna Hurrell’

A Touch of Venus

In Baroque, Classical Music, Opera, Review on October 11, 2014 at 1:01 pm

Review – Pigmalion & Anacréon (Queen Elizabeth Hall, Thursday 8 October 2014)

Pigmalion – Daniel Auchinloss
Le Statue – Katherine Manley
Anna Dennis – L’Amour
Céphise – Susanna Hurrell

Anacréon – Matthew Brook
Chloé – Anna Dennis
Batile – Augustin Prunell-Friend

Choir of the Englightenment
Les Plaisirs des Nations
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment

Edith Lalonger (Choreographer)
Jonathan Williams (Conductor)

Following their performance of Zaïs earlier this year, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and Les Plaisirs de Nations joined forces once again for the Rameau Project – for the actes de ballet Pigmalion and what I believe was the Anacréon that formed the third part of his original Les Surprises d’Amour, both written in 1748.

And under the watchful baton of Jonathan Williams, it once again provided an evening of some superb musicianship and some elegant dance.

Personally, the star of the evening was the returning Anna Dennis. L’Amour in Pigmalion, she took centre stage as Chloé in the post interval performance of Anacréon. Ms Dennis possesses a bright and flexible soprano – there is a crystalline quality to it that is perfectly suited to this music, as well as an uninterrupted sheen and fluidity throughout her range which made her performance ravishing. Additionally there was a flexibility to her voice that not only enables her to negotiate the more florid passages but also to highlight the delicate nuances in Rameau’s vocal lines.

And indeed it was the women who mostly impressed during the evening. Katherine Manley – as the statue – injected a real sense of simplicity – almost naivety – to her performance and all credit for her beautifully choreographed and graceful interaction with the dancers. And in her short appearance as Céphise, Susanna Hurrell also made a positive impression.

Matthew Brook’s Anacréon was the most convincing of Rameau’s gentlemen. He molded his robust and warm baritone around Rameau’s vocal lines and brought out the wit in his elegant performance. I did not warm to the Pigmalion of Daniel Auchinloss. Not only was there a lack of projection but also – in common with Augustin Prunell-Friend’s Batile to a lesser extent – there wasn’t the necessary lightness or flexibility to his voice which Rameau’s music demands – especially for the magnificent Regne Amour.

However for the most part, the diction of both the singers – and the Choir of the Enlightenment – was very good. And while I am no expert when it comes to dance but as before in Zaïs, Les Plaisirs des Nations combined graceful choreography with effortless grace and when required, humour.

After some indecisive playing at the beginning of Pigmalion, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment performed with their trademark verve and spirit. Jonathan Williams was every alert to the shifting rhythms and colours that abound in Rameau’s music and the players in the orchestra responded accordingly.

I hope that The Rameau Project continues to bring Rameau’s shorter works to the stage, supporting what I hope is a wider renaissance of his larger operas.

Venetian Soap

In Baroque, Classical Music, Opera, Review on April 5, 2014 at 1:29 pm

Review – L’Ormindo (Wanamaker Playhouse, Friday 4 April 2014)

Ormindo – Samuel Boden
Amidas/Wind – Ed Lyon
Nerillus/Love – James Laing
Erisbe/Music – Susanna Hurrell
Mirinda – Rachel Kelly
Sicle/Lady Luck- Joélle Harvey
Eryka/Wind – Harry Nicoll
King Ariadenus – Graeme Broadbent
Osman/Destiny/Wind – Ashley Riches

Orchestra of Early Opera Company

Christian Curnyn (Director)

Director – Kasper Holten
Designs – Anja Vang Kragh
Movement – Signe Fabricius

I have to start by saying that the Wanamaker Playhouse is a beautiful gem of a theatre. Constructed entirely of wood it is a remarkable and notable addition to the London theatre and music scene.

Covent Garden doesn’t have the greatest track record for presenting the earliest operas. Steffani’s Niobe a few years ago might have been a brilliantly performed and directed production but it was all but lost on the main stage and the Linbury isn’t the best space in my opinion. So with this production of Cavalli’s L’Ormindo and Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo next year at the Roundhouse, I hope that like their compatriots up the road at the Coliseum, The Royal Opera House is embarking on a major new adventure in terms of period performance outside of their usual – and mostly too expensive – haunt.

Cavalli – a proficient prolific composer – was almost a household name in Italy and judging from L’Ormindo (and Giasone) it is easy to see why.

In fact, it was hard not to see L’Ormindo as an early form of soap opera. It had all the ingredients – misplaced love, comedy, tragedy and of course an improbably outcome. The faux death of Erisbe and Ormindo was almost as unbelievable as the infamous Dallas shower scene. But instantly more memorable.

And the reason is simply because there was a fluidity to Cavalli’s musicianship and handling of the unfolding drama as well as some pretty sharp and witty characterisation. It’s not hard to see the direct link from Cavalli to Handel’s early cantatas composed in Rome and his early operas written In Italy.

Of course the main reason for the success of this production was the incredible cast that Holten had assembled.

In the casting of Samuel Boden and Ed Lyon as his two main protagonists – Ormindo and Amidas – Holten succeeded in creating two equally strong but easily delineated characters. Boden’s light and piercing tenor was incredibly fine, but for me Ed Lyon had the slight edge. He not only displayed – as he did as in Castor et Pollux and as Hippolyte at Glyndebourne – an enviable even and rich tone, sensitive to the stylistic demands of Cavalli’s music, and an amazing dynamic range, especially in the cave scene with Sicle but a real sense of comic – and otherwise – timing.

Similarly, the three women – Susanna Hurrell, Rachel Kelly and Joélle Harvey – were well cast and well-matched. MS Harvey’s Sicle confidently negotiated the changes from gypsy to princess to Lady Luck with effortless ease. Her piercing but clean soprano, with just the right amount of vibrato was smartly scaled to the size of the venue as I am sure she would have no trouble filling a larger auditorium and the soubrette-ish nature of her Lady Luck was inspired. Susanna Hurrell – first as Music floating down from the ceiling – and then as the sexually charged Erisbe was similarly equipped with an impressive voice. Her first scene balanced the sense of comic – flaunting her costume with confident ease – with a real sense of loneliness and frustration with her current marital state. But it was her scene with Ormindo, as they believed that they were dying which raised the tragic temperature of the entire opera.

I’ve no doubt that – even for a few moments – there were a few tearful eyes in the audience.

And as the maid, Mirinda, Rachel Kelly possessed a wonderfully rich and resonant mezzo. Her ‘aria’ at the end of Act One and her acting with Nerillus in the second demonstrated both her singing and acting skills. She is definitely a singer to watch.

Of the remaining cast, a special mention must go to James Laing as Nerillus and Love. A smart actor – especially as Nerillus – he possess what I always think of as a particularly ‘English’ countertenor – there is something almost ecclesiastical about it but nonetheless bell-like and flexible. Yet as King Ariadneus, Graeme Broadbent, Harry Nicoll as Eryka and the sadly under-utilised Ashley Riches as Osman all displayed a real sense of musicianship in their smaller roles, contributing to the overall success of this production musically.

From the balcony, Christian Curnyn and his band of seven players from the Orchestra of Early Opera Company produced the crystalline and transparent playing required from this score. Despite the smaller forces, they not only attacked the music with a verve and rhythmic vitality that is often missing from larger ensembles but also found an incredible range of instrumental colours.

Holten clearly recognised that Cavalli’s L’Ormindo required no more than a light touch and was therefore particularly effective in this smaller venue. Instead his direction focused on the already in-built comedy and tragedy of the libretto and did not overuse other parts of the venue. But as in Don Giovanni and his other operas that I have seen, Holten has a sensitive eye for detail. The way the lighting was subdued in the poison scene was simple yet incredible powerful.

A nice touch was the references to the new Playhouse – and music taking its ‘equal place’ alongside Shakespeare in the opening prologue. Not as incidental as some might think as opening prologues for operas of this period often referred to contemporary events.

The costumes clearly harked back to the period of performance and played up the comedic element of the story with not so subtle skill. But it matched the nature of this opera. I have to admit that on a stage as small as this while movement was generally kept to a minimum the ending – with the dancing – suddenly and needlessly distracted.

L’Ormindo at the Wanamaker Playhouse is now sold out. A shame as I would love to have seen it again but I understand that the BBC – despite my earlier doubts – will be broadcasting it on Radio 3 in the next week or so. There are still tickets to both a ‘secret’ Classical concert as well as a Tallis drama featuring The Sixteen that I would heartily recommend.

There is no doubt that the success of this production sets a hopeful precedent for L’Orfeo but more importantly demonstrates that this new venue is perfect for early Baroque music.

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