Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Le Concert d’Astrée/Haïm @ Barbican Hall, London

2 April 2009

To an extent one had to suspend disbelief, as well as any sense of season, to enjoy Le Concert d’Astrée’s performance of Handel’s La Resurrezione. Not only was this story of Jesus’s triumph over death being told nearly two weeks before Easter, but throughout the music seemed hardly befitting of the subject matter.

Though not exactly uplifting, there was a light and airy feel to the entire work that seemed at odds with the visions of hell and mourning women that it presented prior to the victorious ending. But if one could look beyond that, there was a brilliant performance of a beautiful piece to be enjoyed.

First performed on Easter Sunday, 1708 in Rome, and believed by Christopher Hogwood (who recorded the work on period instruments in the 1980s) to be Handel’s greatest achievement in Italy, La Resurrezione certainly deserves to be aired more regularly than it is.

Led by Emmanuelle Ham, Le Concert d’Astrée produced a wonderfully balanced sound throughout, and excelled in the openings to both parts of the oratorio as Julian Chauvin’s solo violin passages were echoed by Atsushi Saka on the viola da gamba.

But the evening was made by five superb solo performances, with each singer fully embracing the attitudes and emotions of their character. As St Mary Magdalene, both Kate Royal’s sweet singing and overall persona were imbued with spirituality and devotion. This contrasted well with Sonia Prina’s St Mary Cleophas whose deeper voice felt full of earthly mourning.

Toby Spence’s portrayal of St John the Evangelist was beautifully tender and, with just the right amount of power put behind every single note, his performance of Cosi la tortorella was particularly memorable. Similarly, the firmness and conviction in Camilla Tilling’s voice told us that though the Angel may have had good on her side, she was not an ethereal being to be messed with.

But the most entertaining performance came from Lorenzo Regazzo. This bass’s rich voice conveyed Lucifer’s might, whilst strong (almost comic) gestures gave him a more playful edge. And as Regazzo rubbed his hands, raised his eyebrows and gritted his teeth, we gained a keen sense of a figure who may have fallen, but who had lost no strength or courage in the process.

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