L’Issipile, La nuova musica, classical review

Wigmore Hall, London

Out of the great Baroque cornucopia, always something new: this time an Italian opera which had not seen the light of day since its premiere 275 years ago.

Francesco Bartolomeo Conti’s L’Issipile was written for the Vienna Carnival in 1732, and its convoluted plot – concerning a threatened massacre of returning soldiers by their jealous wives, and the salvation of their leader by his devoted daughter – mined its antique sources for a long tissue of passionate arias. From La nuova musica under David Bates’ direction it got the best conceivable revival.

The starry line-up of soloists had been cleverly chosen. Sopranos Lucy Crowe and Rebecca Bottone complemented each other perfectly, with Crowe’s luscious fullness of tone set off by Bottone’s coloratura (crystalline despite her heavy pregnancy); Diana Montague’s high-tragic mezzo was answered by John Mark Ainsley’s soaringly beautiful tenor, while countertenor Lawrence Zazzo’s translucent timbre was balanced by Flavio Ferri-Benedetti’s extraordinary combination of falsetto fruitiness and baritonal sulphur.

That a long evening literally flew by was thanks both to these stunning performances and to the brilliance with which Bates marshalled his forces, letting each instrument sing out in high definition. No show-stopping aria, but much Handelian bewitchment; will they now stage it? Why not?   

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