Soloists, Il Pomo d’Oro explore lover’s passions for Valentine’s Day
Lovers abounded onstage Tuesday night at Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall, thanks to a Valentine’s Day sampler of baroque opera excerpts presented by the period ensemble Il Pomo d’Oro, part of Carnegie’s ongoing “La Serenissima” festival celebrating music and art from Venice.
Actually, that city would not have had its serenity much disturbed by most of the items on Tuesday’s program, which originated in the opera houses of Florence, Naples, Rome, and Innsbruck, to name a few. But in its charm, variety, and vocal razzle-dazzle, the concert well represented 17th– and 18th-century Italian opera, of which Venice was a major center.
Harpichordist Maxim Emelyanychev led a chamber ensemble consisting of Jonas Zschenderlein and Alfia Bakieva, violins; Giulio D’Alessio, viola; Felix Kneeth, cello; Rodney Prada, viola da gamba; Riccardo Coelati, bass; and Simone Vallerotonda, archlute.
The program was organized like a baroque opera, in a prologue and five “acts,” with interludes of instrumental music of the period. Each of the acts featured a different pair of lovers in arias and duets, happy or sad.
Eurydice and Orpheus kicked things off, and Venus and Adonis came along later, but the others were probably not on anybody’s top-100 list of legendary lovers. (Laurinda and Gelsindo? Hypermnestra and Lynceus?) No matter—what counted was not who they were, but how they sang.
Soprano Emöke Baráth and mezzo-soprano Giuseppina Bridelli impersonated all the lovers, the begowned Baráth in the female roles and the elegantly betrousered Bridelli as the boys. Despite their different vocal designations, the two singers’ voices were so well matched in placement and timbre—with Bridelli’s just a bit darker—as to be nearly indistinguishable, especially in duets.
No fewer than ten composers were represented, ranging in time from Andrea Falconieri (born circa 1585) to Gian Francesco de Majo (b. 1732, an exact contemporary of Haydn).
The development of opera in the 17th century was so rapid that, between its turn-of-the-century origins and the earliest opera on Tuesday’s program (Antonio Cesti’s L’Argia of 1655), it had already evolved from a poetic entertainment in aristocratic salons to a public spectacle with virtuoso performers.
Accordingly, singers Baráth and Bridelli had their work cut out for them all evening, spinning out miles of coloratura ornamentation in clear, direct tone and with extraordinary speed and articulation.
But no matter how athletic the phrase, the singers never neglected to shape it, and in the program’s more contemplative moments, they coaxed the meaning out of every line with sensitive vocalism. They artfully alternated straight tone and vibrato, with soprano Baráth favoring a light shake at the top of a phrase and mezzo Bridelli using the expressive device of swelling long notes on a pure, even piercing, straight tone.
This program’s composers, interestingly, called for few high notes, so the singers had to achieve intensity of expression by other means, namely inflection and ornamentation. The alert yet discreet support of Emelyanychev and his players helped immensely.
The audience’s orientation in so much unfamiliar music was aided by taking it more or less in historical order, beginning with the overture and vocal prologue to Cesti’s L’Argia (1655) and proceeding through Antonio Sartorio’s L’Orfeo (1672), Francesco Cavalli’s Pompeo magno (1666), Giovanni Carlo Maria Clari’s duet “Cantando un dì sedea” (undated, c. 1720?), Nicola Porpora’s Gli orti esperidi(1721) and Majo’s Ipermestra (1768).
As time went on, one observed the continuing evolution of vocal style from the post-Renaisssance rhetoric of vastly elaborated syllables (melismas) to the catchy melodies of Porpora’s Neapolitan school and Majo’s flowing lines that pointed toward Mozart.
Baráth and Bridelli served it all up with abundant pathos, irony, and humor, arresting in their solos and duetting delightfully in sweetly-tuned thirds or rapid-fire contrapuntal duels.
The instrumental ensemble shone forth in the canzonas and sonatas by Falconieri, Pietro Andrea Ziani, Luigi Rossi, Dario Castello and Tomaso Giovanni Albinoni that were sprinkled between the vocal numbers. The preponderance of low-pitched strings gave the ensemble a rich, organ-like sound, while the violins offered two distinct timbres, Zschenderlein playing with a sharp metallic sheen and Bakieva smooth and firm, almost like an oboe.
Bouncing on the harpsichord bench, the youthful conductor eagerly shaped every phrase, his longish hair proving an effective conducting device when his hands were busy at the keys.
Singers and players closed the evening with two encores from the father of it all, Claudio Monteverdi: the tender, lullaby-like duet “Pur ti miro” fromL’incoronazione di Poppea and a dance number in ebullient Spanish-sounding rhythm, “Damigella tutti bella.” And indeed, tutti had been bella at this musical banquet.
The next concert in the “La Serenissima” festival will be the vocal ensemble TENET in a program titled “The Secret Lover: Women in 17th-Century Italy,” 7:30 p.m.Friday at Weill Recital Hall. carnegiehall.org; 212-247-7800.