Handel, English Concert, David Daniels, Harry Bicket, baroque
The English Concert's spectacular performance of RADAMISTO had me from its first notes and swept me away to its unlikely but happy ending. Three-and-a-half hours never moved faster than it did at Carnegie Hall on Sunday, February 24.
It's easy to think of Carnegie as simply the premier venue for symphony orchestras and plush sound, but it is also an ideal hall to hear small-scale works, as exemplified by this performance by these early music specialists. It was notable for clarity and an intimacy that put the music in the spotlight, with a cast headed by star countertenor David Daniels (http://www.danielssings.com/)
It made the strongest case for the nearly 300-year old opera--and an even stronger one for presenting Handel without the encumbrances of the costumes and scenery in a fully staged performance. Minus these distractions, the music had a golden opportunity to work its wonders on its own terms, in this tale of marital love, unrequited sexual lust, the triumph of good over evil and, at the last moment, redemption.
And wondrous it was, as conducted by the English Concert's artistic director, Harry Bicket, from the harpsichord. RADAMISTO featured brilliantly played early instruments (including a theorbo, which looked like a cross between a lute and a sitar, and valveless horns) complementing singers expert in Handel's elaborate vocal style.
The well-traveled production did more than simply show off a spectacular group of baroque arias and ensembles, however. Under the subtle but sure direction of Bicket, we heard a group of artists with clearly wrought rapport. Particularly vivid was the vocal and emotional interplay between Daniels and mezzo Patricia Bardon, as Radamisto and his wife Zenobia, but also between Daniels and soprano Brenda Rae as Radamisto's sister Polissena, who is married to the villain of the piece.
Once one accepted his distinctive, high-lying countertenor sound--admittedly, an acquired taste--one had to admire the skill and intensity that Daniels brought to the role, particularly in the spectacular aria, "Ombra cara." But he also brought sensitivity to his scenes with Bardon, whose expressive mezzo skillfully conveyed her bond to Radamisto.
Soprano Rae brought drama and full voice to Polissena, while soprano Joélle Harvey was authoritative in the trouser role of Tigrane, marshaling the troops to take down the piece's villain, Tiridate, who repents in the finale of the work. The role was sung by the other nominal star of the evening, Italian bass-baritone Luca Pisaroni. While I seemed to be in a minority, I found his performance unpersuasive--his florid singing sounding gravelly and his voice pushed to fill the reaches of Carnegie Hall. David Kravitz was agile in the supporting role of Farasmane, father of Radamisto and Polissena.
RADAMISTO was the first of three Handel productions that Carnegie Hall commissioned from this baroque ensemble and Bicket. I, for one, can't wait for THEODORA next year.
Richard Sasanow is a long-time writer on art, music, food, travel and international business for publications including The New York Times, The Guardian (UK), Town & Country and Travel & Leisure, among many others. He also interviewed some of the great singers of the 20th century for the programs at the San Francisco Opera and San Diego Opera and worked on US tours of the Orchestre National de France and Vienna State Opera, conducted by Lorin Maazel, Zubin Mehta and Leonard Bernstein. |