Friday, September 28, 2007

Il Re Pastore

Last night I heard Nicholas McGegan lead the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & an excellent quintet of singers at Herbst Theatre in Mozart's teenage operatic effort, Il Re Pastore. I'd never heard it before, & if this is supposed to be a lesser work, none of the performers seemed aware of this. I was pleasantly surprised to hear truly operatic voices. The cast was uniformly excellent, though mezzo Margaret Lattimore stood out for the size & heft of her voice.

McGegan is the kind of conductor who directs every musical detail. He even plays the harpsichord continuo for the recitatives. He made clear all the rapid shifts in mood or the surprising little flourishes in the music. & there is much of musical interest here. It starts with a splashy overture, which one can't help imagining is the young Mozart precociously announcing his talented presence. The act 2 overture features a jangly Turkish percussion instrument that the player pounds on the floor. Aminta has a wistful 2nd act aria accompanied by English horns & a solo violin.

The performance was semi staged. The orchestra was in front of the stage. On stage were just had 2 benches & 2 potted plants at the sides. The cast wore contemporary concert dress. They acted out what little action there was, but also carried scores, which they referred to in order to get through the lengthy recitatives.

& this gets to what is probably the reason why this piece is fairly obscure. The performance lasted 2 1/2 hours, but there is basically just one aria in each act for each character, plus an extra aria each for Aminta & Alessandro, plus short ensemble numbers to end each act. The rest is filled with long recitative. I'm guessing that the recitatives gave time for the social activities of the original audience, who likely weren't paying much attention to the stage anyway. There's not that much actual music, as far as operas go. The modern audience has to pass through these desolate expanses of recitative to reach the occasional arias, brilliant though they may be.

Aminta -- Lisa Saffer, soprano
Elisa -- Heidi Grant Murphy, soprano
Agenore -- Michael Slattery, tenor
Alessandro -- Iain Paton, tenor
Tamiri -- Margaret Lattimore, mezzo-soprano

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