Monday 21 May 2007

Review of Amadigi di Gaula

Handel's early operas for London (Rinaldo, Teseo, Amadigi) mined a vein of magical themes combined with spectacular productions which must have harked back to the 17th century English semi-operas. Teseo was based on Quinault's libretto for Lully's opera, even keeping the 5-act structure. For Amadigi Handel returned to a French source, this time DestouchesAmadis de Grece, setting a libretto by De La Motte, itself based on Quinault's libretto for Lully. In both Teseo and Amadigi this French source meant that the libretto dispenses with the exit aria convention. In Amadigi the hero himself was present on stage for much of the first half of the opera. On Friday 18th May, Amadigi was sung by Lawrence Zazzo at a concert performance presented at the Barbican by the Academy of Ancient Music under Christopher Hogwood.

Though the libretto called for some spectacular effects its cast is remarkably small. There are just 4 characters, the Princess Oriana(Klara Ek, soprano) in love with Amadigi (Lawrence Zazzo, counter-tenor), the sorceress Melissa (Simone Kermes, soprano) also in love with Amadigi and Dardano (Patricia Bardon, mezzo-soprano) also in love with Oriana. Dardano dies at the end of Act 2 and his shade has to be resurrected to witness the denoument at the end of Act 3.

Few modern stagings are up to the full technical requirements of the libretto. So the Academy of Ancient Music's concert performance enabled us to hear a fine performance which left the spectacular setting to our imaginations. But this was no dull score-bound performance. Granted the cast did sing from scores, but they made entrances and exits, addressed each other, reacted to each other, created strong characters and communicated with us vividly. Someone had obviously thought about the opera's presentation.

Zazzo is a very dramatic performer. His performance was very involving and you rarely felt the lack of a staging. Recordings do not always seem to capture his voice ideally, but heard live he gave a vivid performance. Perhaps his fioriture were not always completely ideal, but when used to such fine, dramatic ends as they were here, I was entranced.

In operas such as Amadigi and Teseo, it is easy for the performer singing the sorceress to dominate. I have seen this happen in performances of Teseo when Medea overwhelms all the other performers. At the Barbican, Simone Kermes proved to be a wonderfully dramatic and vivid Melissa, but the other members of the cast were more than equal to her so she never overwhelmed the performance. Her outstandingly dramatic dress meant that she was visually dominating. She did, perhaps, overdo the lip curling and there were moments when her tendency to over-do the dramatics led her musical performance astray. But all in all this was a magnificent portrayal.

The role of Dardano is not really properly developed in the opera, his main function seems to be to facilitate the mechanics of the plot. But, that said, he does get one of the operas most beautiful arias, Pena tiranna. Patricia Bardon sang it quite, quite beautifully, displaying a lovely firm, dark voice which seems to be hardly touched by her singing of Wagnerian roles such as Erda.

Klara Ek as Oriana was a less vivid performer but then Oriana is not a particularly dynamic character, she seems to mainly react to events. Ek won us over by the sheer musicality of her performance and her winning demeanour. She is definitely someone to watch.

It was nice to hear Handel played straight in the AAM's best manner, rather the slightly mannered performances we have been getting from some foreign bands. Under Hogwood the orchestra played well and gave a fine performance, only let down by the oboes who were evidently having a slightly off day.

This is the first of 3 Handel operas being performed by AAM over the next few years. We are due to get Flavio in 2008 and Arianna in Creta in 2009. Judging by the performance of Amadigi, we should be in for a treat. It was a shame that such a fine performance did not attract a capacity audience in the way that some more showy performers can.

1 comment:

  1. Hi
    Really Loved your last post.
    Thank you

    David Moore


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