Arianna in Creta, Academy of Ancient Music, Barbican
Monday 18 May 2009
While Mendelssohn’s apologists struggle to hoist their man into the limelight, Handel’s chariot sails serenely through the heavens, with three ace period-instrument performances in as many days.
Christopher Hogwood’s production of ‘Arianna in Creta’ was the first major British one in living memory, and the Barbican was packed. Such is the draw of Handel - and of Hogwood’s Academy.
The plot concerns the slaying of the Minotaur plus two parallel amorous misunderstandings, but its raison d’etre – as much now, as in 1734 – lies in the arias which showcase the voices. Mezzo Angelika Kirchschlager should have sung Theseus but was sick; Kristina Hammarstrom, who stood in, had an unusually tensile purity of tone. And as the work unfolded, one saw how everything turned on the contrasts between solo voices – soprano/mezzo, high/low, light/dark. And riches were revealed: the evening was studded with arias of transcendent beauty. Soprano Lisa Milne made one pairing with contralto Sonia Prina; Swedish soprano Miah Persson – who stole the show with a heart-stopping lament - made another with mezzo Hammarstrom; when the latter pair duetted, a light-dark synthesis was finally achieved. No praise can be too high for the instrumental support.
In the chancel at St John’s Smith Square, Ivor Bolton and the Concerto Koln were packed like sardines for a spirited performance of the rarely-heard oratorio ‘Athalia’. This too was a revelation, partly because the crack German period ensemble had the benefit of four outstanding British soloists: tenor James Gilchrist, whose voice and manner always lights up the stage; bass Neal Davies, in blisteringly forceful form; soprano Sarah Fox at her most expressive; and Iestyn Davies, who has one of the most glorious counter-tenor voices in the world today. Okay, the plot was clumsy, but who could object when borne along on such a sublime combination of arias, duets, and choruses? Time flew.
Meanwhile at the South Bank, Marc Minkowski and his aptly-named Orchestra La Scintilla delivered a coruscating performance of ‘Agrippina’. Operatic comedy doesn’t come much darker than this, though Vesselina Kasarova’s frumpily-mugging incarnation of the title role was more Wicked Witch than the Thatcherish creature one expects. We got stunning singing from counter-tenor Jose Lemos, mezzos Anna Bonitatibus and Marijana Mijanovic, and baritone Laszlo Polgar as the emperor Claudius, whose benign irruption into this cauldron of intrigue really did feel like a deus ex machina.
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awardsTheatre
Grace DentChannel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Alan Rickman admits editing 'terrible' script with friends in Pizza Hut behind backs of writers on Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
- 2 Rarest Beanie Baby of them all could be sold for £62,500 on eBay
- 3 Professional big game hunter Ian Gibson crushed to death by elephant during hunt
- 4 Farmer told to tear down mock-Tudor castle after hiding construction behind hay bales
- 5 Rebecca Francis accuses Ricky Gervais of using 'influence' to target female hunters after receiving barrage of death threats
Better Call Saul creator Peter Gould on the creative concerns of a prequel, season 2 and the mind-numbing realities of the small courts
Britain's Got Talent 2015: RSPCA investigating Marc Metral's miming dog after cruelty complaints
Doctor Who film will definitely happen, leaked Sony emails reveal
The Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice trailer has leaked – watch
Glastonbury 2015 tickets: How to make sure you’re successful in Sunday's re-sale
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
Food banks: One million Britons will soon be using them, according to Trussell Trust
BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling