Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Orlando @ St John’s, Smith Square, London

1 February 2018

Lawrence Zazzo
(Photo: Justin Hyer)

This presentation of Handel’s Orlando of 1733 from La Nuova Musica highlighted the virtues of keeping things simple when doing so allows natural talent and class to come through. This may have been a concert performance, but when no-one was glued to their music and the soloists moved so slickly from the sides to the front that hardly anyone was standing centre-stage unless they were actually singing, both the performers and audience were able to focus on what was important.

The orchestra, conducted by its artistic director David Bates, played with a shimmering refinement that enabled lines to be delineated clearly without the output ever feeling anaemic. The balance, sensitivity and attention to detail were frequently staggering, and the various solo instruments cut through the air with spellbinding precision.

Without exception, all five soloists revealed excellent voices and asserted impeccable control over their sounds. As a result, with everyone also seeming highly animated, it felt as if we were being presented with both model and highly personal performances of the arias. In Orlando’s ‘Cielo! Se tu il consenti’ Lawrence Zazzo shaped his superb countertenor with the front of his mouth as much as his throat, meaning that the resulting precision in his output was outstanding. Through excellent singing and acting, he also effectively revealed the different facets to the character’s madness so that in ‘Ah Stigie larve!’ his agitated anger contrasted with moments when he revealed a sense of blithe delusion.

Lucy Crowe also stood out as Angelica for the sweetness in her voice, and the beauty and cleanness in her top lines. Rowan Pierce was equally sublime with the amazing control over her sound being particularly noteworthy. Her priceless reactions also made her despair at rejection at the end of Act I feel as human to us as it was heart wrenching for Dorinda.

Countertenor Christopher Lowrey, seen last year as Guildenstern in Glyndebourne’s Hamlet, was also superb as Medoro, while William Berger, with his strong yet warm baritone, received some of the loudest applause of the night after his performance of Zoroastro’s ‘Tra calingi profonde’. In fact, throughout the evening many arias were greeted so warmly that Bates had to delay the orchestra’s next entry for far longer than he had anticipated. The large assembled audience was clearly aware that it was witnessing something special.

For details of all its recordings and forthcoming events visit the La Nuova Musica website.

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