Saturday, April 13, 2013

Philharmonia Baroque: Handel's Teseo

Philharmonia Baroque at Herbst Theatre photo IMG_20130411_192627_zps3359ab88.jpgThursday night I attended Philharmonia Baroque's semi-staged performance of Handel's Teseo in Herbst Theatre. The orchestra was at floor level in front of the stage, & the singers acted their parts, but without sets or costumes. Soprano Valerie Vinzant, as the girlish Greek princess Agilea, was solid. Her coloratura exit aria M'adora l'idol mio, in which she playfully duels with the oboe, received extended applause. Her Amarti sì vorre was sorrowful & stilled the audience. Soprano Dominique Labelle as Medea wore a blood red hoop dress that set her apart from the rest of the cast. She displayed a range of vocal colors with a full & penetrating voice. She maintained her poise even in mad scenes. Soprano Amanda Forsythe portrayed Teseo, & her singing was connected, clear & even. She had fun with her strutting act III aria S'armia il fato, which included a humorously extended cadenza & finger wagging. Soprano Céline Ricci as the confidante Clizia has a sturdy voice & was a pert actress.

The cast included 2 countertenors, but I am not convinced that this is historically justified. Robin Blaze produced surprisingly big, whooping high notes, though they did not seem connected to the rest of his voice. Drew Minter has an airy sound but switches abruptly to his chest voice for the lowest notes. He made flowery gestures & sang ornaments for comic effect in his 1st aria Serenatevi, oh luci belle! The soloists are all high voices, so the brief contributions from baritone Jeffrey Fields were gratifying. He seemed awfully easy-going for a Priest of Minerva, though.

Conductor Nicholas McGegan led from the right side of the pit, with some of the musicians behind him and some facing the stage. He also accompanied the recitatives on harpsichord. The theorbo player sat on the stage, probably for audibility. Maestro McGegan kept the music moving, often not pausing after arias. The orchestra's playing was unified & consistently buoyant. The many prominent oboe solos were played skillfully.

The plot is shapeless, & the performers let the opera be silly. The on-stage lutenist even became part of the comedy in a scene between Clizia and Arcane in act III. There were no supertitles, but we were handed printed translations on the way in. The long 1st half ran an hour and 50 minutes, the 2nd half an hour and 10 minutes. The audience was attentive throughout & gave the performers a partial standing ovation.

§ Heroic Theseus

HANDEL   Teseo, HWV 9
Philharmonia Baroque
Nicholas McGegan, conductor

Amanda Forsythe, soprano (Teseo)
Dominique Labelle, soprano (Medea)
Valeri Vinzant Amy Freston, soprano (Agilea)
Céline Ricci, soprano (Clizia)
Robin Blaze, countertenor (Arcane)
Drew Minter, countertenor (Egeo)
Jeffrey Fields, baritone (Priest of Minerva)
Jonathan Smucker, tenor

Thur, Apr 11, 2013, 7:30 pm
The Herbst Theatre, San Francisco


Anonymous said...

The soprano singing Agilea was actually Valerie Vinzant not Amy Freston! What a fabulous evening though

Axel Feldheim said...

Thanks for the correction! I was not aware of the substitution.

Unknown said...

How was the sound in Herbst? I had the choice of seeing it in SF or in Berkeley at First Congregational and I chose Berkeley (Sunday afternoon). It was a fantastic performance full of energy and bold bravura singing. The big winner for me was Dominique Labelle whose role as Medea was an unusually good match for her age and voice. Of course the big drawback to a matinee is the constant hissing of hearing aids and the beeping of insulin pumps (and my fellow audience members did not disappoint here!), but the space was light and airy and the sound off of the church's (relatively) low, curved ceiling was great!

Axel Feldheim said...

Herbst is fine for this sort of thing, & since the orchestra was lowered, the balance is good for the singers. They had those free-standing acoustic panels on the stage as well.

Your experience sounds similar to the old lady matinees at the Symphony. The Herbst Theatre audience was not perfectly behaved on Thursday night either. I had to get up for the lady in the seat next to me, who arrived after the music started & spent the 1st half playing with the contents of her purse. Someone's cellphone rang twice during Agilea's act I aria with the oboe. I agree that Labelle was great to hear in this music.

I missed the program insert announcing that Valerie Vinzant sang Agilea at Herbst, but Amy Freston sang in the Berkeley performances.