On weary days I crave for a Neo-Baroque movement to take hold and really lean into beautiful voices. I leave every Handel opera with ears full of delight and tonight is no exception. The Curtis Institute of Music Just pulled off an unforgettable performance leaving me wanting more.
The tenors. Pillars. Solid A consistent foundation of control and strenghth. I liked them very much. However, The fireworks from Handel are written for a higher range and the sopranoss benefited from his brilliant score with lilting, mellifluous, floating, penetrating voice. Emilie Kealani, Sarah Fleiss, and Lucy Baker all took short phrases like “faith and hope triumph in the heart,” and stretched, pulled, and elongated them into sublime depth of emotion. (Heart flutters).
For a companion, the singers were accompanied by the baroque orchestra Tempesta Di Mare. Like a sympathetic friend who full heartedly listens then echoes back their friends emotion; back and forth, the orchestra and singers together became like a perpetual machine of feeling making each stronger and stronger as the arias develop.
I had the unique position of sitting in the front row directly behind the conductor David Stern. From here I could really appreciate this very special guest orchestra who specialize in Baroque music. They use instruments and materials from the time period to get a sound authentic to the intent of the composer from centuries ago. It’s always cool to see a Theorbo and Baroque bassoon in the orchestra! The strings were warm and nimble, but tonight I was awed by the flutes who accompanied my favorite arias, and I could see them best. I was positioned for sound! The lungs of the conductor, the faintest smack of a kiss of from Ginevra’s lips to her father’s hand, and the soft steps of the lithe chorus. It was full immersion and I was thrilled for the seat more ways than one. On the train over I realized the lens of my glasses popped out at home, but it was too late to go back.
The stage team gave the players a bright and balanced set to triumph. They swiftly moved the audience thru the recitative of Handel’s time with good blocking and props. Small moments brought the world to life like when the boys on the left roll out a rug, but it only goes halfway, then the girls rug unfurls in one go and they gently tease the boys about being better. Overall the interactions flowed and intertwined, including a sword fight. When it was time for an aria, the singers moved near candles for a smooth transition to a subtle spotlight. An unscripted moment of fun was when Ariodante, played by a commanding Lucy Baker, hugged a handmaiden. The button on her sleeve got caught in her hair and she had to follow after the young maid her arm extended into her hair ala Frankenstein. She didn’t break character, but for a brief moment I thought she was going to start laughing and like a laughter locomotive not be able stop. A high wire moment she quickly re-balanced from. Is there a class for this?
The final aria between Sarah Fleiss and Lucy Baker was sensous in word, voice, and their trust in one another as artists. It encapsulated the evening. Both voices silver throated as all evening, but here they sing coupled together in an embrace with Ariodante’s hand placed on the rib cage of Ginevra. It was an electric synergy, and the two became one and gave hope to the world that love can conquer all.
So What’s Ariodante all About? Princess Ginevra loves Ariodante and is going to marry him, but then the Duke of Albany professes his love for her which surely has nothing to do with the throne. Ginevra’s confidant is in love with the Duke and willing to help him. She disguises herself as Ginevra and convinces Ariodante that the Princess has betrayed him. Will Ginevra and Ariodante see through the deceit and defeat their enemies or will it all end in tragedy, tune in to Act II to find out!
I don’t have a recording of tonight’s singers, but here is a great aria from the end of Act I with Renee Fleming and Yannick that I hope sells my idea for a Neo-Baroque movement!
Notes on the Production:
Composer……………… George Frederic Handel
Conductor……………… David Stern
Orchestra……………….. Tempesta di Mare
King of Scotland……… Evan Gray
Polinesso……………….. Anastasia Sidorova
Odoardo………………… Jason Kakuk
Lurcanio……………….. Joseph Tancredi
Ginevra…………………. Sarah Fleiss
Dalinda………………….. Emilie Kealani
Ariodante………………. Lucy Baker
The Perelman Theater, Philadelphia