Sunday, April 26, 2009

PBO: Athalia

Handel's Wicked Queen
Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra
24 Friday 7:30pm, at Herbst Theatre, San Franciso

HANDEL: Athalia

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)

Philharmonia Chorale
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.


L. Strether said...

The pleasure was mutual- thank you- that was a great time. On another note, all that music and Cartier-Bresson too? It's been too long since I've been to NYC!

Reading everyone's reviews, I can't say I'm sorry to have missed this Ring, but I am definitely going to attend the LePage production when it arrives.

Axel Feldheim said...

I'm glad you had a good time even in that atypical post-performance circumstance. Did our host actual pull out a nargile?

I have no regrets about attending this Ring, though I may still have issues about the extent to which I may have been goaded into it. There will surely be another convocation of bloggers at the Met for 2012!

As for Cartier-Bresson: Well, you have to do something in between those operas. At least I didn't go shopping.