Wednesday, April 29, 2015

John Eliot Gardiner Leads L'Orfeo

I'd never heard a live performance of Monterverdi's L'Orfeo, so I was excited to hear John Eliot Gardiner conduct a concert version with the Monteverdi Choir & English Bach Soloists in Davies Hall on Monday night. The entire performance was beautiful & refined, & the youthful cast all had attractive voices. Tenor Andrew Tortise as Orfeo sounded captivatingly sweet & resonant throughout, with a nice ring to his high notes & pleasing low notes. Soprano Francesca Aspromonte sang Music & the Messenger with a dramatic range of dynamics, & her sound was pure & penetrating. She began her act 2 narrative offstage. As Euridice & Hope, soprano Mariana Flores had a focused, slightly reedy sound, & she colored her voice nicely for Euridice's brief appearances.

Bass Gianluca Buratto was terrific as the infernal characters Caronte & Plutone. His voice was firm & powerful, and he went down to a low D smoothly. His Caronte skulked around the stage like Iago, & I like that his singing was befittingly gruff at times. I enjoyed the extroverted sound of tenor Krystian Adam, who sang the First Shepherd appealingly & with much variety.

The soloists were also members of the chorus, who all sang from memory & participated in the story fully by reacting & gesturing. Characters theatrically entered & exited the stage for their scenes, & there were a couple of lighting cues. The female soloists even danced & played the tambourine, with the chorus clapping along. The women wore different brightly colored dresses for acts 1, 2 & 5, but everyone was in black for acts 4 & 5, which take place in Hades. When the chorus sang in unison they made a gorgeous bell-like sound that seemed to have an aura around it.

Maestro Gardiner is a tasteful conductor. He pointed a lot with his left hand, & the ensemble was always perfectly together. Tempos were stretched & indulgent & seemed to slow down as the evening progressed, making the event feel like a ritual rather than a drama. The orchestra of period instruments was clean & bright. The famous opening toccata employed different combinations of instruments for each repetition & sounded brilliant. I was glad I was close enough to the stage to see the toy-sized violino piccolo in act 2 & to watch the elegant harp solo during "Possente spirto." All the performers looked delighted to be there.

The concert was intermissionless & ran a full 2 hours. A handful of people bailed before the end, but the audience was quiet & respectful. We were clearly not supposed to interrupt the performance with applause, but at the end the audience gave the performers an immediate & lengthy standing ovation.

§ English Baroque Soloists
Monteverdi Choir

John Eliot Gardiner, conducting

Monteverdi L'Orfeo

Music/Messenger: Francesca Aspromonte
Orfeo: Andrew Tortise
Euridice/Hope: Mariana Flores
Nymph: Esther Brazil
Proserpina: Francesca Boncompagni
Caronte/Plutone: Gianluca Buratto
First Shepherd: Krystian Adam
Second Shepherd/First Spirit/Apollo: Nicholas Mulroy
Third Shepherd: James Hall
Fourth Shepherd/Third Spirit: David Shipley
Second Spirit/Echo: Gareth Treseder

San Francisco Symphony
Great Performers Series
Monday, April 27, 2015 at 8:00
Davies Symphony Hall


Michael Strickland said...

Perfect description of the musical evening. I think I'm just going to bail on my own post and link to yours. I'd never heard L'Orfeo before live either, and though it's not as ambitious as Poppea or Ulise, it sure is beautiful and you really could hear opera being created, rather like the best silent films presage everything that followed.

Axel Feldheim said...

Thanks, Michael. I'm flattered to be linked to, but I see that you were able to come up with your own appreciation of the event anyway! I like your analogy to silent film. I've never thought of that, but I see what you mean.