Baroque is back!
And never was that more clear than on Feb 24, at Carnegie Hall with a staged concert version of Handel’s Radamisto by a slew of star soloists, and performed by The English Concert with Harry Bicket conducting from the harpsichord.
Originally performed in April 1720, the work had a major overhaul the following December with the removal of 8 arias and adding 10 more in their place. Reworking of the vocal roles (changing the title role originally sung by a soprano and giving it to a castrato/countertenor), cutting a character, a few more revisions, and we end up with the story that was presented for New York audiences on Sunday afternoon. The piece had its original New York premiere in 1980, making it still a relatively new piece to American audiences. It has never been performed at the Met to this day.
The story concerns a cast of characters in search of love, revenge, and honor–themes all too well known in the realm of opera. We have Radamisto who learns that his sister is in love with a man who doesn’t love her. Polissena, the aforementioned unrequited sister. Tiridate, the unfaithful husband hellbent on the destruction of Radamisto and his father. Zenobia, Radamisto’s wife who would rather die than surrender to the demands of Polissena’s husband. Tigrane, Tiridate’s trusted ally who’s in love with Polissena and unsuccessfully tires to tear her away from her husband. And Farasmane, father of Radamisto and Polissena, who attempts to sacrifice himself to save his son and his beloved city. For a full synopsis, click here.
Sound a little confusing? It was even harder to follow when the most action on stage was as our solosists changed music stands. But all is forgiven when the quality of the singing is not sacrificed to display the plot.
This well matched cast fit perfectly together with each voice complimenting the next. The title role was played by internationally renown countertenor David Daniels. An audience favorite where ever he sings, Mr. Daniels is a master class in the Baroque style. His is a very physical singing, but the sound that each gyration makes is pure platinum. At one point during the performance, the stomping was such that the audience called for another bow. His sister was performed by American soprano Brenda Rae. My opinion of her performance changed throughout the course of the opera. At first she was a bit shrill and uneven, but by the third act she was able to dazzle the audience with her talent. Her best and most thrilling work came in the aria "Barbaro! Partiro, ma sdegno poi verra." Mezzo soprano Patricia Bardon took the role of Zenobia. She had such a warm, brick oven-like voice that wrapped around the entire house. She had very simular colors as Mr. Daniels which made their duets seem as if they were emoting from one voice. A beautiful effect that occurs when two great forces join in great sound. The role of Tigrane was performed by American Soprano Joélle Harvey. Ms. Harvey possessed a floating quality that complimented Ms. Rae during their scene at the beginning. Though her best and most surprising singing came at the top of the third act, spinning out high notes like shooting rockets with stunning effect that made this examiner stop and take note. She will very soon be a force to reckon with.
A man who has already made quite a name for himself was our Tiridate played by Italian bass-baritone Luca Pisaroni. Slightly over dramatic (though true to the part), but never forced, his was a rich, colorful voice that fit his character perfectly. There really is something to be said about hearing a native speaker sing their own language. It is more natural, flows better, and just sounds better. Mr. Pisaroni is a proof positive to this and will remain so for many, many years to come. The audience also called for an encore bow in the third act.
Hearing everyone sing in a “chorus” to end the piece was pure celestial joy. Further enhanced by hearing this ageless music on period instruments lead masterfully by maestro Bicket.
Deserving honorable mention is David Kravitz in the role of Farasmane.
For more information about Carnegie Hall, click here.
For more information about The English Concert, click here.
For more information about David Daniels, click here.
For more information about Brenda Rae, click here.
For more information about Luca Pisaroni, click here.
For more information about Patricia Bardon, click here.
For more information about Joélle Harvey, click here.
For more information about David Kravitz, click here.