Handel's Wicked Queen
Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra
24 Friday 7:30pm, at Herbst Theatre, San Franciso
Nicholas McGegan, conductor
Dominique Labelle, soprano (Athalia)
Marnie Breckenridge, soprano (Josabeth)
Céline Ricci, soprano (Joas)
Robin Blaze, countertenor (Joad)
Thomas Cooley, tenor (Mathan)
Roderick Williams, bass-baritone (Abner)
Bruce Lamott, director
This is not a program that typically attracts me, but neither was I foolish enough to pass up an invitation to attend. McGegan led a well-prepared, neat, almost square performance. His tempos were consistently bouncy, & he moved from one number to another almost without a break, so the evening went by very efficiently. The orchestra has a smoothed-over & gentle sound. Even those often temperamental wind & brass instruments sounded mellow. In the second half, there was a lovely obbligato for 2 flutes played at the side of the stage by Stephen Schultz & Mindy Rosenfeld.
Though Athalia is strictly speaking an oratorio & not an opera, the singers would come & go on-stage, act & react to each other. Still, I didn't find myself engaged in a dramatic way, other than to find those Christians an awfully smug bunch. Dominique Labelle as the title character made an impact on me mainly because her voice was twice as loud as anyone else's. I liked the big choruses that included the brass instruments. They sometimes sound like rough-drafts for The Messiah.
I had the pleasure of meeting The Ambassador, who was fresh from Tortelier & Davies After Hours. I enjoy reading his independent opinions, & I found him to display quite the same racy intellect in person.